Firefighters with Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni Fire Department conduct escalator rescue drills at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, April 9, 2019. The firefighters used an escalator in the old Marine Corps exchange because the building is slated for demolition later this year. This was a unique training experience for the firefighters because many had never conducted escalator rescue drills mostly due to high repair costs that come with the training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Stephen Campbell)
Firefighters with Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni Fire Department conduct escalator rescue drills at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, April 9, 2019. The firefighters used an escalator in the old Marine Corps exchange because the building is slated for demolition later this year. This was a unique training experience for the firefighters because many had never conducted escalator rescue drills mostly due to high repair costs that come with the training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Stephen Campbell)

Deescalating future escalator incidents from escalating into heartbreaking tragedies

by Stephen Campbell
Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

Even after its closure, the old Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) on Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni still serves a purpose on base. Slated for demolition later this year, firefighters with MCAS Iwakuni Fire Department used the dark, empty building to conduct escalator rescue drills on April 9, 2019.

Since this type of training can destroy an escalator, firefighters saw the upcoming demolition as an opportunity to jump on some uncommon training without the escalator requiring a repair. This was also a rare training event because there aren’t many military installations in Japan that have escalators.

Issei Hashimoto, a firefighter with MCAS Iwakuni Fire Department, said that the number of escalator accidents that happen may be small, but they do happen. This is a very rare and important training opportunity to respond to accidents like that. If a passenger got stuck in an escalator, the firefighter could take too long if they don’t have the skills to rescue the trapped passenger.

To give an idea of how rare and important this training was, Toru Hirota, the performance assessment representative at Facilities Support Contracts, said this was his first escalator rescue training experience after 13 years with his employer. Also, the escalator has been on the air station for approximately 25 years and this was the first training held, mostly due to high repair expenses.

“This is the first training in my life… and probably the last training in my life,” said Hirota.

Firefighters used a life-sized adult test dummy to simulate a passenger falling through an escalator, and they used small test dummy body parts to simulate a small child’s foot or hand getting stuck. Each simulated incident was treated as an actual emergency response and the firefighters treated each simulated injury with care by assessing the blood pressure and heart rate of each test dummy. They also carried each dummy away from the scene on a stretcher.

After each test dummy was carried away, responders huddled together in a circle and held an after action brief to describe what it was like to pull the simulated limbs, or bodies, out of the escalator, their effectiveness, what they could do to improve and discussed the well-being of each simulated passenger affected.

The reason they treated this as a very serious situation is because many times firefighters are the first responders to provide medical support whenever a real incident occurs. They intend to save lives that could be impacted by an escalator incident quickly and efficiently as possible in the future.

None of this training would have been possible without station facilities, who allowed the firefighters to use the obsolete escalator. Hirota said he coordinated with seven different organizations for this training such as Marine Corps Community Services, Army Corps of Engineers, the government of Japan and others to get this training up and going.

Overall, this training grants firefighters’ increased confidence if an incident ever were to occur.

Hashimoto said that as a firefighter, his mission is to save lives. He’s just thankful for the opportunity to do this and is hopeful to do training like this again.

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