A dozen Japanese firefighters who spent a week training with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District returned home over the weekend after briefly becoming stranded in the Bay Area when Friday's earthquake and tsunami forced the cancellation of flights to Japan.
The firefighters were scheduled to finish their training program Friday and fly out Saturday, but they had hoped to leave early when word of the tsunami came in, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.
"It was a tough few days for us and for them," he said.
They were unable to leave immediately due to flight cancellations, and it was initially unclear when they would make it home. But about half the group flew back on Saturday, and the other half returned on Sunday, Schapelhouman said.
"We've been getting a lot of e-mails from people who want to help the Japanese firefighters, but the good news is that we got them out," he said.
Schapelhouman said two of the trainees were from companies located in areas heavily impacted by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami, which killed thousands of people.
Both firefighters lost homes in the disaster, Schapelhouman said.
The 12 firefighters from Japan had been practicing basic urban search-and-rescue skills related to structural collapse rescue and disaster response as part of a program hosted by the fire district and the Industrial Emergency Council in San Carlos, he said.
Before the group left, the fire district held a ceremony and awarded certificates of completion along with class photographs.
"It was pretty emotional," Schapelhouman said.
Teams from around the world come to Menlo Park's training facility to learn rescue operations from its staff, which has responded to disasters ranging from floods to earthquakes to terrorist attacks, he said. The district is the sponsor of one of 28 national urban search-and-rescue teams.
Up to four groups of Japanese firefighters have been training with the district each year for the past seven years. Another group was scheduled to fly in Sunday, but the trip was canceled because of the earthquake. Menlo Park rescuers responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Loma Prieta earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina, he said.
He said local firefighters could be deployed to Japan to help with
the disaster response there.
--Bay City News
To see what it was like on the training ground on Friday, click on the video that goes with this article.