Large Japanese City Has Few Fires; Citizens Active in Fire Safety Effort
—photos by the author.
Imagine a city of almost 1.5 million residents having only 216 fires all year! Kyoto, in Japan, can boast of this enviable record for 1980 because of thorough fire prevention and suppression programs that reach almost every person.
Kyoto, the ancient capital, spreads over 235 square miles in southwestern Japan and includes a large forested area in mountainous terrain. The occupied area has a very high population density, but only 16 died in fires last year. (The average U.S. city of that population could expect to have 90 fire deaths in a year, according to figures from the U.S. Eire Administration.) Injuries numbered only 32. How do they maintain such a fire-safe record?
I had the opportunity to visit Kyoto where 1 was the guest of Fire Captain Takeshi Miyawaki, a 22-year veteran of the department now in the fire prevention section.
My guided tour of the fire department revealed a total of only 11 main stations, 33 branch stations and two small, mountain substations. But from those stations they operate 77 various pumpers, 20 different types of ladder apparatus and over 100 other four-wheeled vehicles plus 190 motorbikes.
A typical first-alarm assignment includes four or five pumpers, a ladder truck or elevating platform, a rescue squad and two chief officers. Calls are received in the communications center through their 119 emergency number. There is no street fire alarm box system. Three Japanese cities already have computer-aided dispatching. Kyoto’s will be installed in 1984.
All fire fighting units—whether pumper, tanker, ladder truck or rescue vehicle—have midship, two-stage centrifugal pumps of about 650 gpm. Nine tanker-pumpers carry 400 gallons of water each. Six chemical pumpers carry 350 gallons plus 300 gallons of foam and 350 pounds of dry chemical.
The standard pumper has no booster tank. Instead of a hose bed it carries a small hose cart with 650 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. (Actually it is 6.5 centimeters in diameter. All measurements are converted from metric.) Hose carts are necessary in Japan because many of the streets and paths are too narrow and congested for larger fire apparatus to pass. Newer hose carts are electric driven. Each pumper also carries several sections of rolled hose.
Kyoto has an excellent water distribution system with large mains and numerous hydrants. Because of the ever-present threat to the water system from an earthquake, alternate water storage sources are available along with creeks and swimming pools. Many portable pumps are stored around the city.
All aerial ladders are rear-mounted. Each one has a two-man elevator which can be propelled up and down the extended ladder. Very few portable ladders are used, however. The aerial ladder trucks carry only one and the elevating platforms have none. Each truck unit is equipped with a 65-foot canvas escape chute. A person using it jumps into the tube and slides to the ground.
A unique 50-foot articulated boom unit features a remote-controlled, hydraulically operated, ram-type forcible entry tool at the tip next to the nozzle. It is used to break glass, brick or plywood.
24 on, 24 off
The uniformed force consists of just over 1500 persons, plus 57 non-uniform. Fire fighting personnel are organized into squads of five men on two shifts, 24 hours on duty and 24 hours off. Of all uniformed fire personnel, almost one out of three has the rank of lieutenant or higher. A lone fire fighter at each mountain substation has supervision of a different kind. His family lives there with him.
Fire prevention personnel work an eight-hour day and specialize in inspection, investigation, public relations or education. Specialists also concentrate on hazardous materials. The mobile inspection program uses cars and motorbikes.
Different organized programs are conducted throughout the year. Two general fire prevention campaigns are under way in March and November. A forest fire campaign goes on for three weeks in April. One-day events spotlight fire protection of historic buildings in January and disaster protection on the September anniversary of the great Kanto earthquake and fire in 1923.
Demonstrations, movies and lectures are carried to groups in the city by using two specially equipped vans as classrooms. Citizen groups and organizations are encouraged to actively promote fire prevention programs.
Children are invited to local fire stations for fire safety education talks. A special event is the Children’s Fire Festival in October. A day is set aside for the department to entertain the kids with apparatus demonstrations and a band concert.
An annual New Year’s Review provides an opportunity for everyone associated with the city’s fire protection to stage a large parade. Equipment and skills are again demonstrated. All of the activities instill fire safety awareness in every citizen. Many of them become directly involved.
Important assistance to the fire department is offered by the Volunteer Fire Corps. It includes over 4000 members in 181 fire companies. The members receive regular training from the paid department and in turn educate other citizens in fire protection, first aid and fire prevention. Their stations house small Jeep-type and pickup truck apparatus, portable pumps and other equipment.
Other assistance comes from the 6800 civilian fire prevention district leaders. They organize and conduct drills and demonstrations in their own neighborhoods. In addition, every public building and large commercial establishment, has a fire protection manager who is responsible for maintaining inhouse fire fighting equipment and conducting drills.
District leaders and building fire protection managers are also trained by fire department personnel. There are also consultants available on fire department telephones to answer citizen inquiries.
Leading causes of fires were careless smoking and incendiarism, but most of the residents there have gotten the message of fire prevention—and believe in it.
Because of the effective fire prevention, disaster protection and public education programs plus strict fire codes and productive inspections, the Kyoto Fire Department is not overloaded with fire suppression work. No one minds. This allows for more time, money and energy to be devoted to fire prevention, resulting in fewer fires every year.