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One Year After Quake, Japanese Firefighters Train in Menlo

"Culturally they're very sensitive, not only to what disasters have happened, but to what can happen again."

 

A group of Japanese firefighters is in Menlo Park this week to receive training from one of the Bay Area's elite disaster response agencies.

Just more than a year after Japan's earthquake and tsunami disaster, nine Japanese firefighters are practicing basic urban search-and-rescue skills at a training facility operated by California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3.

For the past four years, Japan has sent small groups of firefighters for weeklong training sessions with Task Force 3, which is made up of fire and rescue personnel from 16 Bay Area agencies. It is one of 28 National Urban Search and Rescue teams, Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

"They're a lot of fun, very gracious," Schapelhouman said of the visitors from Japan. "Culturally they're very sensitive, not only to what disasters have happened but to what can happen again."

In March 2011, 12 Japanese fire personnel were in Menlo Park when the earthquake and tsunami devastated their home country.

Local editor Vanessa Castaneda recorded video of the Japanese firefighters right after the quake hit. The video accompanies this article.

Schapelhouman said it was an emotional experience trying to get the firefighters back to Japan to reconnect with their families and help in the rescue effort.

"We clearly saw they were affected by what was going on and wanted to return as quickly as possible," he said.

Training at the Task Force 3 facility includes an earthquake-scenario response drill involving a massive pile of collapsed debris, training with canines, and learning about the psychological impacts of search-and-rescue effots on rescuers and victims.

Trainees are sometimes awakened in the middle of the night to respond to simulated disasters.

"It's dark, there are things on fire, we have live victims," Schapelhouman said.

Task Force 3 has trained teams from Australia, China, Canada, France, Germany, and Taiwan, many of whom go back to teach search-and-rescue teams in their native countries.

The Japanese team tonight will be introduced at 7 p.m. at 300 Middlefield Road.

-Bay City News and members of the Patch Staff contributed to this report.

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