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Man dies at AmericaFest; firefighters charge ambulance delays, mistakes

Date Posted: 2009-07-09

A 61-year-old Okinawa man began choking on a hot dog at the Kadena Air Base AmericaFest about 4:09 p.m. Saturday, began receiving medical aid from U.S. paramedics in a matter of minutes, but ultimately died after it took more than an hour to get him to a local hospital.

Base officials say a Medical Response Team was immediately dispatched, with the Nanjo City man receiving cardiac massage treatment by an American doctor while an ambulance was summoned from a nearby community. Officials say an ambulance was called from the Okinawa City Fire Department, and it was at Gate 2 within a couple minutes. It then took 16 minutes for the ambulance to get through AmericaFest crowds to the accident scene. The man was taken to Nakagami Hospital in Okinawa City, where he was pronounced dead.

Officials critical of the decisions made in the moments after the man began choking say the U.S. should have called the Nirai fire Headquarters, the nearest fire station to the accident scene, instead of an Okinawa City fire station on the opposite side of Kadena Air Base. A U.S. official confirmed that American military ambulances do not transport Japanese patients. The Okinawa City Fire Department says it is reviewing the incident.

An Okinawa City fire official concurs with others who say an ambulance from Nirai Fire Station in Kadena Town was much closer to the festival, and that a nearby gate into the community was open for AmericaFest. He says there’s a need for more communication and coordination with Kadena Air Base and local community fire and police departments to prevent future incidents.

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