Council approves new fire captains, firefighters

  • SAKO

  • TODD

Fire stations in Ocean View and Laupahoehoe will soon have captains to supervise operations, thanks to a $3.5 million federal grant adding nine new positions to the department.

The County Council agreed Wednesday to accept the grant and create new positions, while acknowledging that doing so means the county will be required to carry those positions in its own budget once three years are up.

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“After three years passes … the county will now absorb the costs of these things,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, who voted in favor of the measures. “It’s a good thing as long as everyone is aware. … A lot of times we create these positions and then we’re on the hook to continue it.”

The nine positions — six captains and three firefighters — will provide two captains and one firefighter for each of three eight-hour shifts in order to cover a 24-hour day. It was not immediately known where the firefighter positions would be assigned.

Other council members were enthusiastic about the grant and beefing up Fire Department staffing, which they said lagged behind the state and nation.

“This position is something the community has wanted desperately for a long time,” said Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball about the Laupahoehoe captain.

“This is a great start,” said Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder. “I think that both police and fire are not staffed to the level as otherwise in the United States.”

The two stations are only half of the number that currently have no supervising captain, said Fire Chief Kazuo Todd. Stations in Waikoloa and Hawaiian Paradise Park are also without captains. The grant covers salary and benefits but not overtime, Todd said.

Todd said the department selected Laupahoehoe and Ocean View because Waikoloa has a supervising battalion chief and the Hawaiian Paradise Park station is close to two other stations — Keauhou and Pahoa — that do have captains and often pitch in to help.

The council also accepted a $1.4 million federal grant for emergency generators for sewer treatment facilities. The county will be chipping in $459,000 as a 25% match. The money will come from future bond proceeds, said Finance Director Deanna Sako.

The money will be used to purchase and install four stationary and four trailer-mounted generators for the Department of Environmental Management to service the Hilo wastewater treatment plant, Kulaimano wastewater treatment plant, Papaikou wastewater treatment plant, Wailuku pump station, Paukaa pump station, Wailoa pump station, Onekahakaha pump station, and Kolea pump station during severe weather events.

“One of the things we learned from the (2018 Kilauea eruption) disaster is more and more of our equipment should be mobile,” Sako said.

She said the generators will likely also be used when disasters occur that don’t affect the sewer plants or pump stations.

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“Definitely, DEM has been a team player with their generators,” Sako said.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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