Japan to create squads to fight chemical fires

In preparation for fires that may be triggered by a massive earthquake, the internal affairs ministry's Fire and Disaster Management Agency will start work in fiscal 2014 to create special squads capable of combating major fires at chemical and petrochemical facilities, it has been learned.

The planned firefighting squads will be equipped with high-performance water cannon trucks capable of discharging large volumes of water, according to the FDMA.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has included ¥450 million (S$5.8 million) for purchasing water cannon vehicles in its budget request estimates for next fiscal year.

In the event of a fire or other disasters at such facilities as a petrochemical complex, firefighters from local fire stations are helped by reinforcements from their neighbouring counterparts.

However, in many cases, the reinforcement firefighters' vehicles and equipment, as well as their expertise, are insufficient, according to FDMA officials.

To address the problem, the agency divided the country into seven regions in preparation for such disasters as a Nankai Trough megaquake and an earthquake with its focus just beneath the Tokyo metropolitan area, and plans to assign one special squad to each, to be realised no later than fiscal 2016.

Each unit will comprise about 10 members whom the FDMA will choose from among firefighters in each of the seven regions, the officials said.

There have been an average of 100 fires or explosions at such facilities as chemical plants a year since 2010, the FDMA noted.

The squad members will ordinarily serve as firefighters, while undergoing special training at regular intervals to acquire such knowledge as that of structures of chemical factories and similar facilities, they said. In the event of a disaster, the squads will be mobilized as part of an emergency response support team, they added.

Two special vehicles capable of discharging large amounts of water at higher pressure than ordinary fire engines will be stationed in each of the regions, according to the FDMA.

Vehicles will be deployed in advance in two regions in the next fiscal year. The two regions will be chosen based on the anticipated likelihood of a major calamity such as a Nankai Trough megaquake, the officials said.