Japanese fire rescue personnel return to Menlo Park a year after their country’s earthquake and tsunami

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on March 20, 2012

When the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, twelve Japanese Fire Rescue Personnel were training in Menlo Park with members of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District’s National Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. Eventually, they were able to return home in two groups several days after the event. Now, a year later, they’re back in Menlo.

The Japanese Fire Rescue personnel are practicing basic urban search and rescue skills related to structural collapse as part of a program hosted by the Fire District and the Industrial Emergency Council located in San Carlos. The Fire District is the sponsor of one of the country’s 28 National Urban Search and Rescue Teams with extensive experience in search, rescue and recovery in urban environments.

California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3, sponsored by the Fire District, consists of 16 fire agencies located in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties as well as 60 civilian volunteers such as doctors, structural engineers, dog handlers, heavy equipment operators and communications experts. Task Force 3 responded to disasters such as the World Trade Center collapse, the Oklahoma City bombing, and Hurricane Katrina, among others.

Last year, several of the Japanese Fire Rescue personnel were directly affected by the disaster in their country, losing their homes, unable to account for family members or having immediate family accounted for but displaced. Prior to each group’s departure, a ceremony awarding certificates of completion along with class photographs is held. “It was pretty emotional last year,” said Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman. “The Japanese have been among our most gracious and attentive students, but we clearly saw they were affected by what was going on at home and wanted to return as quickly as possible to check on their families and be part of the national rescue effort.”

This is the second class of Japanese Fire Rescue Personnel to attend training in the last two weeks. Many of the previous students have now become instructors in Japan teaching other members of the Fire and Rescue Service in their country. The group was welcomed back by the Fire Board at March 20 and will be at the collapse center site training throughout this week.

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