Hazardous Incident Response Team ready to react
When a hazardous material emergency, biochemical threat or terrorist attack is imminent, the members of the Hazardous Incident Response Team are the first on the scene.
Their purpose is to serve and protect service members, their families and citizens of the local community by neutralizing and eliminating any and chemical threats that occur on the island.
When they are not responding to chemical spills, the team is no less diligent, checking equipment and running drills to ensure they stay proficient at their craft and remain ready to handle any incident that may occur.
The HIRT unit here consists of 38 members overall, including military policemen and emergency medical technicians. To ensure members remain adept at their capabilities, the team consistently checks equipment for functionality and practices scenarios involving casualties, toxic spills, terrorist attacks and other disasters.
At the southern detachment of the Marine Corps Bases Japan Fire Department here, firefighters receive additional training to be qualified to respond to hazardous material incidents, according to Hideaki Tomimoto, a firefighter and driving engineer with the MCBJ Fire Department.
“Even though we rarely ever have a large-scale chemical incident to handle, it is important that everyone here is able to respond effectively just in case,” said Tomimoto, who has worked with the department for more than 11 years. “We are all proficient with all the gear, equipment and procedures.
“We check our equipment every day to ensure that no matter when we need it, it’ll work,” said Tomimoto. “We also have HAZMAT training at least once a week, and a full-scale drill once a month to practice tactics.”
With the exception of hydraulic and gasoline leaks, the HIRT unit remains on stand-by in MCBJ’s specialized teams arsenal.
“We are lucky to have not had any large-scale incidents, but no matter the size, we have three priorities when it comes to our job – save lives, environment and property,” said Tomimoto.
When the team is not conducting HIRT training, they are working fervently to maximize their skills in other areas of their jobs, said Earl Revolta, an emergency medical technician with the southern department.
“These guys are never sitting still,” said Revolta. “They are not only with the HIRT unit- they are fire fighters, water rescuers, English students and the list goes on. They are very passionate about what they do.”
With 24-hour shifts and a constant training schedule, the team is unsurprisingly close.
“We are very much like a family,” said Revolta, who has been with the team two years. “We spend more time here than we do at home, which really builds up our sense of camaraderie.”
Article by Cpl. Jovane M. Henry, Marine Corps Bases Japan