Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
What inspired you to pursue a career in the emergency services profession?
Nobukazu Yoshida: In a letter she wrote to me before she passed away, my mother encouraged me to pursue a career in whatever field I might choose, but one that would allow me to work for people. After reading that letter, I determined to work for people not only through my activities as a Buddhist, but also in society in general.
Lee Sang-ho: Although I had initially hoped to become a public servant with regular working hours, I ultimately chose the path of a firefighter. Once I actually started working, I began to appreciate the importance of being a firefighter who saves lives and protects property.
What does a typical day on the job consist of?
Sang-ho: Until August 2013, I held the position of emergency rescue team chief, working 12-hour shifts while attending to fire and rescue callout situations.
related article Human Rights Education & Humanitarian Relief View exhibitions and other resources for the promotion of human rights education and raising awareness of global humanitarian challenges. After that, I was responsible for conducting mobilization and emergency rescue training for various disaster situations such as earthquakes, flooding and fires. It was challenging, but I was able to achieve the best results of all 14 participating fire stations in Gangwon Province. Since this January, I have worked for the personnel department in an administrative position.
Nobukazu: I work a 24-hour shift, during which I primarily spend my time attending to emergency callout situations. Other duties I have carried out to date include preparation of investigative documentation for the public prosecutor, the police and the courts, related to emergencies that were not of an accidental nature; I have served as a witness for autopsies; and I have conducted life-saving courses for the public at large, as well as at schools and universities.
What types of emergencies do you encounter in your work?
Nobukazu: I have been exposed to infectious diseases and poisonous substances, as well as people’s violent outbursts. I have also had women give birth in the ambulance.
Sang-ho: I attended to emergency callout situations that arise from such occurrences as flooding, typhoons and fires. From time to time, I also responded to various requests from members of the community to do things like removing hornet nests and capturing wild animals.
How do you train yourself to be mentally and physically prepared to respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice?
Sang-ho: In order to prepare myself physically, I participate in general emergency rescue training and emergency rescue callout training. To prepare myself mentally, I have received training on how to avoid posttraumatic stress disorder.
Nobukazu: The training I have received through SGI activities supports me mentally. I prepare myself physically by commuting to work by bicycle, a 25-kilometer ride each way, and by bicycling and walking to meet with SGI members at their homes on my days off.
related article “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons by Sabra Williams, USA Sabra Williams is an SGI member and a successful film and television actor, whose career includes credits in Mission Impossible III and recurring roles in ABC’s Injustice and CBS’s Three Rivers. After making her mark as an actress and TV presenter in the UK, Sabra moved to the US in 2002, where she created the Actors’ Gang Prison Project. Launched in 2006, the project employs highly physical theatrical techniques based on the emotive 16th-century Italian “people’s theater” culture of commedia dell’arte. The work has proved transformative for inmates of the California prison system and has significantly reduced recidivism rates. Sabra was recently honored as a Champion of Change by the White House. What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Nobukazu: If I’m called out to help someone who is on the brink of death or in shock, I have to keep them from falling into cardiopulmonary arrest and get them to a facility that provides advanced life support treatment. In order to prepare ourselves to respond quickly to any situation that may arise, we study, not only as individuals, but also as a team, such things as various pathological conditions, the effects of chemical and poisonous substances and electrocardiogram reading, and carry out training exercises that simulate various situations.
Sang-ho: Human relations and communication between colleagues are the most difficult issues, due to the constant stresses of the job. However, I keep to heart SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s advice that all worries exist to open up our lives and that all difficulties function as “good friends” that transform our lives.
What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Nobukazu: The most rewarding aspect of my job is when I receive a word of thanks from the individuals I have helped or their families.
Sang-ho: Saving someone’s life, or responding to an emergency call . . . It’s also incredibly rewarding when my trainees express their enthusiasm.
How do you apply your Buddhist practice to your work?
Sang-ho: A moment when I felt I really understood the Buddhist spirit of selflessness was when I struggled with all my might to rescue someone who was drowning in a river. Everything before my eyes was pitch-black, but somehow I managed to save their life.
Nobukazu: Being directly involved in matters of life and death, I have come to appreciate the things we tend to take for granted in our daily lives. This sense of appreciation grew even stronger when, in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, I was dispatched to the disaster-stricken areas as a member of an emergency rescue support team.
Nichiren Buddhism, which explains the cause-and-effect relationship of birth, aging, sickness and death, has served as the stimulus for me to reflect on the way in which I engage with everyone I encounter, and because my job throws me into the lives of people who are in the depths of despair, I am aware of just how important it is to have a strong life force. It is for this reason that I chant without fail at least one hour before going to work.
related article Living Beyond My Limitations by Abraham Uccello, USA While trying to understand the mentor-disciple relationship in Buddhism, Abraham Uccello was able to face his painful past and develop a sense of profound purpose. How has your Buddhist practice affected your approach to work?
Nobukazu: Each emergency rescue team is made up of three individuals. If even one member of the team loses heart, the team loses its ability to save lives. I am therefore conscious of just how important the roles of a sound faith and a correct philosophy are in this occupation. I view it as my mission to raise the level of my team and to be the one who transforms the spirits of those around me.
Sang-ho: In a profession such as this in which death is always present, it is easy to fall victim to posttraumatic stress disorder. Most personnel remain on call with constantly elevated nerves, and it is common not to be able to get a good night’s sleep. I too struggled with nervous issues before I became a firefighter, but through my Buddhist practice, I have been able to lead a healthy life and feel joyful from day to day.
I make it a point of always greeting my colleagues with a smile, and among my friends I have even been given the nickname “Doctor Happiness.” I’m always encouraged by the words of President Ikeda, that our lives are decided by the determinations we make and the actions we take at the most trying of times, that therein lies the true worth and greatness of human beings—it is during the most trying of times that a noble history is written and our lives expand.
Courtesy October 2014 issue of the SGI Quarterly.