New fire-and-rescue facility dedicated

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It was difficult to hear some of the speakers at Friday’s dedication of a new fire station.

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It was difficult to hear some of the speakers at Friday’s dedication of a new fire station.

But the roar of planes taking off and landing served as a reminder about the importance of the new Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting facility at Hilo International Airport.

“Whenever you do this type of project, you’re excited for it,” said Ford Fuchigami, director of the state Department of Transportation. “But it’s not until you see the end result that you’re amazed by all of the hard work.”

The Hilo ARFF station is the fourth that has been built during Fuchigami’s tenure. He called the facility “fantastic.”

The two-story, 21,000-square-foot facility broke ground in March last year under the supervision of contractor Nan Inc. It features an emergency operations center and four drive-thru bays designed to accommodate larger response vehicles.

For the firefighters who will call the center a home away from home, there’s a kitchen, sleeping area and weight room.

The building “sets the standard for all state fire departments,” said Wil Okabe, representing Gov. David Ige. The governor was in transit Friday from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

About 87 percent of the $18.8 million needed to build the facility came from the Federal Aviation Association. The DOT Airports Division covered $3 million of the cost.

State Sen. Kai Kahele, speaking on behalf of Senate President Ron Kouchi, called the building a “shining example of collaboration” between county, state and federal agencies.

Kahele, a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines and member of the Hawaii Air National Guard, said air traffic was expected to increase in Hilo in the coming years because of new routes to the mainland, the introduction of new aircraft and the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s future aviation program.

The Hilo airport is closest to the mainland of any in the state, he said, and is the primary divert place for many trans-Pacific flights. Just two weeks ago, a Honolulu-bound flight was diverted to Hilo after smoke was detected in the cabin (the plane landed without incident).

“It’s not a matter of if, but when” the ARFF facility will be used, Kahele said.

State Rep. Clift Tsuji spoke on behalf of House Speaker Joseph Souki. State Reps. Mark Nakashima and Richard Onishi also attended the ceremony, along with Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi, who praised the work of the fire crews.

Martinez Jacobs, fire chief for HDOT airports, spoke about the crews’ dedication to their work, reminding the gathered group of the Big Island’s volunteer work on Kauai after Hurricane Iniki. The firemen spent 45 days helping Kauai recover, he said.

The ARFF station will soon get new trucks, as will its counterpart in Kona, Jacobs said. A new training station also is in the early stages of planning.

“We’re not done working in Hilo,” Jacobs said.

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Kahu Isaia Kealoha and Kahu Kaliko Trapp, both of St. Joseph Catholic Church, gave a blessing of the building before the ceremonial maile untying.

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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