Japan's internal affairs minister is calling on local municipalities to recruit enough community firefighters to strengthen disaster response capabilities. Matsumoto Takeaki sent letters to municipalities across Japan on Tuesday.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency, which falls under the ministry's jurisdiction, says the part-time firefighters played a significant role after the powerful earthquake on New Year's Day in central Japan.
It says roughly 600 community firefighters helped people in Wajima and Suzu cities in Ishikawa Prefecture, where a major tsunami warning was issued.
They guided people who were evacuating and rescued others trapped in destroyed homes.
The firefighters also carried out duties that they usually do not engage in, such as making emergency repairs to roads and patrolling in fire trucks to prevent crime.
The agency says the number of community firefighters across Japan has been declining since it peaked at 2.02 million in 1954. As of April 2023, there were just over 760,000.
Officials say they will draw up a list of cases where local governments have successfully secured the firefighters and ensure the information is widely used.
They say they will also support efforts by more actively recognizing community fire units for outstanding work.