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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan

Yokota Air Base firefighters have a new place to call “home.”

But the new $9 million facility, which took more than three years to build and is nearly four times the size of their old station, is no ordinary fire station, said Mark Lawler, Yokota’s fire chief.

“This new station is the Rock of Gibraltar on Yokota if we have an earthquake or major disaster,” Lawler said, adding that the station also functions as a command-and-control hub during major emergencies, such as earthquakes.

“Since 1964, firefighting services have morphed into emergency services,” said Lawler of the year the old station was built.

Unlike the old station, contructed of metal, the new facility, which opened Thursday, is made from concrete and has backup generators that can maintain operations, even if the rest of the base loses power.

The increased space also gives firefighters more room to house their training division, support personnel and the 911 call center.

Lawler said another reason the new building was needed was the old station could not accommodate the health and safety needs of the firefighters living and working inside.

In the past, fire trucks used regular gasoline but have since switched to diesel fuel, he explained.

Because long-term exposure to diesel can cause cancer, regulations are in place so that the vehicle bay is not connected to living areas.

Living quarters also have been dramatically upgraded, Lawler explained, so that they more closely meet modern-day Air Force living standards.

There is also a recreational area, classrooms, television rooms and a fitness center.

“It’s great! I’ve been in the Air Force for almost 11 years and this is the first new station I’ve been in,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Gerwick, the dispatch noncommissioned officer in charge.

“This is a state-of-the-art facility.”

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