IBARAKI, Osaka -- Three firefighters in this western Japan city have been slapped with dishonorable discharge for assaulting subordinate workers and covering up the incidents.
"We did it as part of efforts to promote communication between workers. We wanted to make a strong team," one of the three dismissed firefighters was quoted as saying during questioning.
The revelation comes on the heels of another incident in which four teachers' harsh bullying of a younger co-worker at a Kobe municipal elementary school developed into a serious social issue. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency has also been taking measures to prevent sexual and power harassment that was rampant at fire stations.
"The incident is extremely regrettable as it comes as we're working to eliminate such harassment," said an agency official.
The three firefighters are a 34-year-old fire sergeant, a 33-year-old assistant fire sergeant and their boss -- a 47-year-old assistant commander at the Shirakawa branch of Ibaraki Fire Station.
According to the Ibaraki City Fire Department, the sergeant and assistant sergeant attached a blood-pressure gauge belt to the neck of a firefighter in his 20s and activated the machine in an ambulance in the predawn hours of May 17. At the time, the ambulance was being refueled. The firefighter became unable to breathe at one point, and suffered internal bleeding in his face and eyes.
The assistant commander was briefed over the matter, but told the sergeant and assistant sergeant as well as the victim not to tell anybody about the incident.
In addition, the assistant commander struck down the same firefighter during a training session at the branch this past April and kicked him at least 30 times in the back and lower part of the body. The assistant commander also tied the hands and feet of another firefighter in his 20s with rope and hung him upside down from a fire engine. The boss also sprayed an insect deterrent agent and ignited it and ordered him to pass near the fire in a bid to burn his body hair. Moreover, the assistant commander reportedly forced the two firefighters to touch each other's private parts.
The harassment came to light after the firefighter who was choked by the sergeant and assistant sergeant consulted with another senior firefighter this past September.
The dismissed assistant commander admitted to the allegations against him, but has reportedly been saying, "I thought I was just messing around with my younger co-workers." The two firefighters are apparently saying that they have no intention of seeking criminal charges against their bosses.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency set up a study panel on harassment at fire stations in February 2017 following revelations the previous year that corporal punishment was rampant at a fire academy in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo.
A survey the agency conducted on some 4,000 firefighters shows that 17.5% of them were subjected to harassment, such as being punched or ignored.
The study panel concluded that harassment could occur easily at fire stations because hierarchical relations between workers are stricter than other workplaces and the same firefighters work together round-the-clock.
As countermeasures against harassment, the agency set up a consultation desk in July 2017, and urges fire departments across the country to make similar efforts. As of March 2019, 589 departments, or 80.9%, of 728 departments across the country had set up consultation desks.
(Japanese original by Shinya Yamamoto, Osaka Bureau; Yuta Shibayama, Osaka City News Department and Koki Matsumoto, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)