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Firefighters with the Kinchiku Fire Department utilize a tower ladder to extinguish a simulated aircraft fire from above during an air mishap exercise on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Feb. 9, 2023. The bilateral training exercise tasked all participants with extinguishing an aircraft fire, retrieving all simulated casualties, and treating any injuries to bolster response plans for aircraft mishaps. U.S. Forces Japan and the Okinawa Defense Bureau coordinated the exercise with Provost Marshal’s Office, the Camp Hansen Camp Guard, Marine Corps Installations Pacific, Fire and Emergency Services, surrounding area local fire departments, district police departments, and the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas Sheng)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas Sheng

Bilateral exercise on Camp Hansen familiarizes Marines and firefighters with responding to aircraft mishap

22 Feb 2023 | Lance Cpl. Thomas Sheng Marine Corps Installations Pacific

U.S. Marines partnered with local Japanese fire and police departments for a bilateral air mishap exercise, simulating a rescue from a burning aircraft accident at the fire training facility on Camp Hansen, Feb. 9, 2023.

This training tasked participants with extinguishing two fires from an accident that split a rotary wing aircraft into two pieces. While some tended to the fires, the remaining responders pulled any simulated casualties from the scene and treated their wounds accordingly. Casualties who needed additional medical treatment were airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.

Marine Corps Installations Pacific Fire and Emergency Services, the Provost Marshal’s Office, Kinchiku Fire Department, Motobu Town Nakijin Fire Department, Camp Hansen camp guard, the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, the Okinawa Prefectural Police, and the Ishikawa Police Department, all participated in the exercise with the goal of meeting U.S. Forces Japan’s training requirements, improving community relations and promoting bilateral coordination with Japan.

“Our exercise goal was to reinforce continued collaboration where Japanese emergency responders arrived at an aircraft crash with support from the U.S. military,” said Jonathan Davis, the assistant chief of training with MCIPAC F&ES. “These situations could happen anywhere on the island, so our goal was to focus on triaging patients effectively and to prevent any loss of life.”

To prepare for the exercise, two firefighter instructors with MCIPAC F&ES slowly lit the parts of a training aircraft ablaze. Once the smoke and fire began to build up, all participants left the scene to produce a realistic response to an emergency.

Fire trucks could be heard off in the distance approaching the scene rapidly. Observers watched as first responders poured out of their vehicles pulling casualties to safety. Each party performed multiple tasks simultaneously through blaring sirens and thick smoke.

“Getting the opportunity to see all teams work together effectively was extraordinary,” said Davis. “The Japanese police and fire departments did an exceptional job, and the U.S. military responders were able to integrate into the teams to make this training successful.”

OPP and emergency medical responders tended to casualties while firefighters rushed to assemble their firefighting equipment to drench the fires. Marines with PMO, MCIPAC and Camp Hansen camp guard, cordoned off the aftermath of the scene. Once all casualties’ injuries were assessed, two casualties were airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa for further treatment.

“Overall, the cooperation was phenomenal,” said Dave Lewis, the assistant chief of operations with MCIPAC F&ES. “Initially there were some communication concerns, but both sides had translators and understood the command system to come together as one unified command structure.”

To fulfill requirements and guidelines, the exercise was constructed in accordance with the USFJ and Government of Japan agreement. The agreement requires that the U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, and Navy hold exercises to prepare for U.S. military aircraft accidents that could occur nationwide in Japan. The four branches rotate this responsibility annually. The Marine Corps hosted in 2023 and the Air Force will host 2024.

“There is not one fire department or police department that can handle an incident of this scale by themselves,” said Lewis. “We not only focus on getting patients a higher level of care, but also ensure that we have interagency cooperation and unity between all of our entities.”

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