Almanac

News - March 16, 2011

Japanese firefighters fly back to Japan

Twelve Japanese firefighters who spent last week training with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District were able to fly back to Japan on Friday and Saturday, March 11-12, according to district fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

There had been a plan for two of them to remain behind to lay groundwork for the another group of Japanese firefighters coming in for training, but that training has been canceled, Chief Schapelhouman said.

The Japanese firefighters were temporarily stranded here after Thursday's earthquake and tsunami in Japan forced flights to be canceled.

A local urban search and rescue team, known as Task Force 3, which includes firefighters from the Menlo Park district, is next in line from the Western Region to go to Japan if they are needed, the chief said.

The Japanese firefighters finished their training program Friday and gathered at the Oasis in Menlo Park to observe their graduation. They like American hamburgers, pizza and beer, and throwing the peanut shells on the floor, the chief said.

The graduation ceremony and photographs sessions were "pretty emotional," the chief said.

Some of the trainees are from areas of Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami, Chief Schapelhouman said.

Teams from around the world come to Menlo Park's training facility, the Baylands Structural Collapse Training Center, located on the northern side of the Bayfront Expressway, along the western side of the Dumbarton Bridge behind a PG&E electrical substation.

There they learn rescue operations from its staff, which has responded to disasters ranging from floods to earthquakes to terrorist attacks, Chief Schapelhouman said.

"We take those lessons and teach them not just what's in a book, but make it real for them," he said. "We teach them to adapt and overcome situations, and what they need to know before and during them."

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