Volunteer firefighter numbers plummet in three hardest hit Tohoku prefectures

Kyodo

The three prefectures in the Tohoku region hit hardest by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami saw an 8.4 percent fall in the number of volunteer firefighters from pre-disaster levels, a greater drop than the nationwide 2.7 percent decline, a Kyodo News survey showed Saturday.

Dying in the tsunami, moving away from affected areas, and evacuation after the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are believed to be behind the sharp fall — a loss of 2,020 — in the number of volunteer firefighters in the three prefectures’ 37 municipalities.

The number of volunteer firefighters in the 37 municipalities stood at 23,909 as of April 2010. That figure plummeted to 21,889 by last April.

The majority of volunteer firefighters are independent business people or farmers.

By prefecture, Iwate saw a drop of 6.7 percent, Miyagi about 12.5 percent and Fukushima 5 percent.

Of the 37 municipalities, the number of volunteer firefighters plunged 20.1 percent in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, while that of Ishinomaki, also in Miyagi, fell 19.8 percent.

The town of Futaba, home to the crippled Fukushima plant, saw a 23.3 percent drop.

“In the event of a large-scale disaster (in the areas), there will be many casualties in a variety of places, but there will be cases where firefighters will not be able to immediately reach them,” a Fire and Disaster Management Agency official said.

“Volunteer firefighters play a vital role in local areas,” the official added. “So there is an urgent need to secure them in terms of disaster prevention.”