The Tokyo Fire Department will launch a helicopter-based unit called Air Hyper Rescue to battle fires in high-rise buildings.
The megalopolis had around 12,500 11-story or higher buildings as of 2013, up 50 percent from a decade earlier, the department said Monday. The annual number of fires on the 11th or higher floors almost doubled to 83 between 2003 and 2013.
There also were 1,154 condominium buildings 20 or more stories high across Japan as of the end of 2014, according to property market research firm Tokyo Kantei Co.
While the Fire Service Act defines high-rise buildings as those at least 31 meters tall, the maximum height that the ladders of the Tokyo Fire Department’s firetrucks can reach is about 30 meters, around the height of a 10-story building.
In the event of a fire in a high-rise, fire engines send water to pipes connected to outlets inside. Such pipes are required in buildings of seven stories or higher.
“We need to assume cases where fire engines cannot get close to the buildings or pipes are damaged as a result of an earthquake,” But a senior department official said.
The new rescue unit, to be created by next April, will fight fires in high-rise buildings and engage in activities in areas cut off during a disaster.
Its helicopters will be equipped with a tank that can hold around 2,500 liters of water. For a high-rise fire, the helicopters will hover about 40 meters from the building and horizontally discharge 600 liters of water per minute.
The department will prepare rescue gondolas large enough to hold about 10 people. These will be carried by helicopters to and from isolated areas or building roofs.
In addition, the department is easing restrictions on the use of emergency elevators designed for firefighters, who would use them to rescue elderly and disabled people.
The combination of these measures will enable “multilateral approaches” to fighting high-rise fires, the department official said.