If a major tremor hits again, I recommend people to seek shelter first.

Mr. Tsutomu Tamemoka head of the No.8 Volunteer Fire Brigade in Nagata-ku, Mr. Koji Hanfusa a leader in the brigade.photo

Talk 1

Tameoka: There are 8 volunteer fire brigades in Nagata Ward, with No. 1 in the Maruyama district. The brigade numbers then come south and from east to west, so No.8 is the in the west. The number of members in a brigade is 18, but at present we have 16.I was in my 40s I became a member of the brigade in 1997 and leader in 2004. Although I was a little older and slower than the younger members, I used my knowledge and experience to help me get through the training. My experience as residents’ association chairperson helped when I became brigade leader.


When the earthquake happened I was chairperson of Noda 5-chome residents association. I got to see the local brigade at work and later a 100 ton water tank was set up in Nagara Park for fire emergency use and being chairperson of community association, I was asked if I would join the local brigade as part of the community’s fire prevention management. That’s how it started.– A message arrives during the program on Mr. Tameoka’s emergence call receiver –This is a receiver all brigade leaders and sub-leaders in Kobe are given and have to carry at all times. Messages come on this all the time. So, we get little or no break from them.


Hanafusa: I became a brigade member in 1988, that’s about 23 years ago. I was asked to join when I left my former job to continue the family’s tatami business. I am the 4th generation.I was in the brigade when the earthquake happened and we were on the go from early morning till late at night. My own house just managed to survive the fires that destroyed the houses around it. That was because it was built in 1993 after the district was declared a fire prevention zone. Our old house was an old wooden terrace house and I’m sure it would have been destroyed like the others.


The day the earthquake happened we couldn’t do any fire extinguishing, not even the professional firefighters could. We spent most of the time rescuing people from collapsed buildings etc. It was 35 days after the earthquake when I resumed work.Tameoka: In our neighborhood not many houses collapsed. But there was no water, food, electricity or gas. So, we worked on getting water and food. We were busy getting aid to the 1,500 people who took shelter in the local Nagara Elem. School.


(Fire brigade training)The fire brigade has regular training sessions for discipline training and use of fire hose pumps and training for fighting a major fire outbreak, etc. Since the earthquake, brigades have become quite busy. Regular checks of the pump motors, and instructing local residents are things we didn’t have before. Both Mr. Hanafusa and I are qualified first aid instructors so we give instruction to local residents.


Talk 2

Tameoka: My main line of business is roof tiling, but I also do house exterior and sheet metal work. A lot of people stopped using roof tiles after the earthquake and this has seriously hit the roof tile business. Immediately after the earthquake most of my work was putting large blue plastic sheets on house roofs, about 200 roofs. I charged almost nothing for the work because the customers, like myself, were victims of the earthquake. About 2 weeks after the earthquake I began doing repair work. Although there was a demand for new houses, small local contractors like myself lost out to larger companies from outside.


Hanafusa: In my case, for about a month, some staff were still living in the business building because their houses had burned down. Though I began to receive orders, it was hard to get started.. Like Mr. Tameoka’s business, we were affected in the same way. Tatami dealers and carpenters came from all over the country, even Kanto.


(Message arrives on Mr. Tameoka’s emergency call receiver.)

Formally, Kanto and Kansai tatami sizes were different, but since the earthquake, most new houses use the Kanto size. Older houses used to have more and larger tatami rooms, now there is usually only one with 6 tatami. Some tatami craftsmen do other interior work, but I want to concentrate on tatami. Many of tatami craftsmen are quite old and have no one to continue their business, so their number is decreasing.


Tameoka: There are three main roof tile manufacturing centers in Japan; Awaji Island, Mikawa in Nagoya and Sekishu in Shimane Pref. Kanto use Sekishu while Kasai uses local Awaji roof tiles. Construction standards changes after the earthquake to those of Kanto where they don’t use soil under the tiles which is lighter. Kansai now uses this style. Construction regulations and styles have changed a lot since the earthquake, and we have to adapt to them.


Sometimes I have to stop work to assist in firefighting, even at 3:00am. But sometimes I have to ask a subordinate to go instead of me. When a fire breaks out, one main role of the brigade to is to provide the professional firefighters with detail information about the residence and residents so that they can work as effectively as possible. We also are responsible for cordoning off the area and traffic control. One of our most difficult jobs is keeping onlookers at a safe distance. We are also called out for traffic accidents, etc.


Hanafusa: I never think of quitting the brigade because the more I am involved in it, the more rewarding I find it and I also want to help instruct young new members.Tameoka: Unfortunately there are no female brigade members in our brigade. Female members would really help us get closer to the community. Female members are welcome.


Hanafusa: If a major tremor hits again, I recommend people to seek shelter first. It is usually said we should switch off the gas, etc. but that can be very dangerous. Of course, switching off the gas is important, but it is more important to secure one’s safety.Tameoka: Make sure you are safe then check on your family’s safety, and then check on your neighbor’s.