Kadena Airmen put out local fire
Two aircraft recovery Airmen from the 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron put out a local sugar mill fire Jan 11, 2019 in Uruma, Japan.
On their way to dinner, Tech. Sgt. Argo Cesareo and Senior Airman Justin Kannenberg noticed smoke coming from a building on the opposite side of the four-lane road. Alarmed, but unable to tell what exactly it was, they kept an eye on the building until it was closer in view.
“It looked concerning but I wasn’t sure what it was, so I kept an eye on it. As we were passing the building, I could see flames coming up the backside of the building, so I told Kannenberg – who was driving – ‘That’s a fire, we’ve got to turn around,’” Cesareo said.
At the next possible spot, the Airmen made a U-turn and pulled into an apartment complex parking lot next to the flaming building. Kannenberg laid on his horn to alert anybody that may have been inside the apartment buildings while Cesareo dialed 119 for help. Despite the language barrier they were able to get help on the way.
“There was an elderly woman, she didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak any Japanese, so she didn’t understand what I was trying to say, but one of her neighbors came out and I handed her the phone and pointed to the fire and she got the idea,” Cesareo explained.
Once the neighbor was on the phone with emergency services, Kannenberg found a garden hose and threw it over the fence separating the sugar mill from the apartment complex.
“It was like 70 or 80 feet fortunately, so I ran and turned the water on and ran to where the fire was and started spraying from fairly far away,” he said.
“When the flames started to die down, I got a little bit closer.”
After spotting another hose, Cesareo was able to help Kannenberg extinguish the flames.
With smoke billowing from under the doorway and all ways of entry locked, the Airmen contemplated what to do next.
“We thought about kicking down the door to see if there was anybody inside, but I was worried about the backdraft,” Cesareo said. “I knew if we opened another window or door, the whole thing would go up.”
As locals watched on, the Airmen used their fire-fighting training as aircraft mechanics – although a building fire and aircraft fire are very different – to do the best they could until help arrived.
“I was pretty focused; I wasn’t really concerned about anything other than just trying to get the fire to stop,” expressed Kannenberg, “That was the only thing that really mattered at the time.”
By the time the fire department showed up, Cesareo and Kannenberg had managed to extinguish all the flames, leaving only burning embers inside the building.
The Uruma emergency services were able to clear the scene and confirm the sugar mill was, in fact, empty.
Because of their Air Force training the Airmen were able to quickly take action and make decisions without hesitating. Their courageous actions not only prevented the fire from possibly spreading, but also gained the respect of the local community.
The Uruma City Police held a recognition ceremony to show their gratitude and present the Airmen with Letters of Appreciation. Both Cesareo and Kannenberg were appreciative of the opportunity to be recognized for their actions and to build a bond with local community.
“I thought it was a really cool experience,” Cesareo said. “The police department and everyone we interacted with seemed very sincere and grateful and we felt grateful for their hospitality.”