On the Occasion of the International Volunteer Fire Service Conference

The Japan Firefighters Association has decided to host the worldfs first International Volunteer Fire Service Conference here in Japan as a special commemorative project. The project marks the 60th anniversary of local authority-controlled firefighting systems being established in this country and has been realized thanks to the cooperation of several related organizations, namely the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, the National Governorsf Association, the Japan Association of City Mayors, the Association of National Towns and Villages, the Tokyo Fire Department, and others.

Ensuring the safety and security of our communities and loved ones is a natural priority shared by countries and peoples worldwide. However, and especially in Japan, we face extreme weather situations, such as high winds and floods every year. Our people also live with the ominous knowledge that a major earthquake is long overdue and expected soon. Such events are indiscriminate in the death, damage and destruction they cause, as are the domestic fire incidents which have caused increasing fatalities in recent years. On top of these significant challenges, our fire services are obligated, by law, to respond to each and every emergency situation.

In the face of such realities, so the role of the Japanfs Volunteer Fire Service, which relies on each communityfs willingness to protect its own neighborhood, has been growing in importance. However, actual membership numbers in these volunteer services have been decreasing steadily in recent years, falling to below 900,000 last year. The Japan Firefighters Association regards this as an extremely serious situation, in terms of our ability to provide adequate safety cover for local districts, and we will make every effort to both halt this declining trend and reverse it.

Importantly, we have learned that volunteer fire service systems are by no means unique to Japan. On the contrary, there are similar systems operating in many other countries, especially within Europe and America and these all play an important role in their respective disaster management systems. On researching firefighting systems overseas we found that our respective systems are currently confronting the same issues such as the challenge to secure more volunteers and our abilities to respond effectively and immediately when a major disaster strikes.

It with this world-view in mind that we are now taking this opportunity to invite volunteer fire service representatives from the major countries around the world to gather together and discuss the mutual problems we face as volunteer fire organizations, and the roles these vital services can play in combating large-scale natural disasters and implementing anti-terrorism measures, etc. By formally addressing such problems, which are relevant to all nations, we will be able to make significant contributions to improving our volunteer services and to firefighting systems within both Japan and throughout the world.

We are truly grateful that so many people have already responded to the spirit of this first International Volunteer Fire Service Conference and with such generosity and enthusiasm. It is only with your full support that this conference is possible.

Finally, I would like to convey my sincere respect and gratitude to all the volunteer fire service members and personnel within Japan and around the world. You are on the front lines of our fire and disaster management systems, selflessly dedicated, night and day, in a heroic service to humanity, protecting our lives and property. It is with such words of appreciation that I wish to conclude my comments about this first International Volunteer Fire Service Conference.

Toranosuke Katayama

Chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Volunteer Fire Service Conference (President of the Japan Firefighters Association)