Firefighters strut stuff in emergency team display

A marching band blared the theme to “Mission Impossible” during Tokyo’s New Year Fire Review on Jan. 6. It was stirring but misleading.But nothing seemed impossible for the representatives of the fire department’s nine districts, who wowed the crowd with the skills, organization and technology they use to save lives during fires, earthquakes and other disasters. The event opened with the Tokyo Fire Department parade at Harumi Fairground, where crowds and smiling officials took their seats to watch an educational spectacle.The department consists of 136 task forces and 32 special forces, a junior fire department of 3,000 members and, since 1995, 4,000 volunteers. Harumi’s parade involved 770 of these men, women and children, the youngest a 4-year-old.An impressive variety of tasks was demonstrated by these dedicated people. Apart from firefighters, there are earthquake-readiness teams, ambulance crews, first-aid technicians, divers, and of course a hierarchy of commanders organizing their groups efficiently.A traditional “kiyari” performance and ladder-top stunts were performed by the Edo Firemanship Commemoration Association, whose members still play an essential role in community fire protection. These old school firefighters are known to have full-body tattoos, but those approached declined to show them off on the cold windy day. The groups were particularly impressive when they applied their skills to a colorful, loud staging of their responses to a fire and an earthquake. Helicopters flew overhead, while shining red trucks with immense pumps — that can send through hoses, some 2 km long, 4,250 liters of water a minute — raced toward the site with lights flashing and sirens wailing. Other trucks followed with bulldozers, cranes and sophisticated robots to tackle various hazardous situations. The parade ended with the hoisting of flags on ladders and the department’s banner, with colored water spouting high into the sky while the helicopters buzzed by again.