Japanese first responders stuck in Bay Area

March 11, 2011 5:52:29 PM PST
Oddly enough, a team of Japanese first responders just finished disaster training on the peninsula. They were supposed to fly home this weekend, just as another team was scheduled to fly in.

This disaster in Japan will require high level, technical rescue and recovery efforts. It means going through collapsed buildings and structures that will be entangled, all the while wading through flood waters.

That kind of damage is what the Menlo Park Fire District has expertise in, since their squad has traveled the world in such efforts and they train other departments. They went to New York after 9/11 and helped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now, take a guess who had come to town this week.

When the Gung Ho guys in Menlo Park's Fire Protection District rescue train squads from other places, they try to make it real. Today, real took on entirely new meaning.

"Of course I want to go home, right now," said Mike Maramatsu from Shizuika, Japan.

And when Maramatsu returns to Japan, he and his fellow firemen will be doing there what they did in the Bay Area on Friday, and conceivably be with some of the men from Menlo Park. The difference is it will be for keeps.

"We got the news last night about 10 o'clock," said interpreter Tokuko Ando.

Ando says the men are frustrated that, of all the times to leave Japan for training, they picked the week of their nation's worst natural disaster in memory. And they're a long way from home.

"Two years ago I married, so my wife is waiting at my home," said Maramatsu. When asked if he has spoken to her, he said no, he hadn't. He didn't know if she was alright or not.

There is quite a lot the Japanese firemen that don't know right now. They don't know how they will get back home or how soon. Nobody knows those answers right now. Until they do get home, training is best way to spend their time. Friday was a scheduled final day of training, with weeks, and probably months of reckoning to follow.

"The flood going across the farmland, we just couldn't speak?anything," said Ando.

"I have never seen such a big tsunami and I studied geology in college," said Maramatsu.

Japanese fire departments send teams to Menlo Park twice a year for training. It speaks to the motivation of these men that each of them paid their own way and for the class.

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