Staffing shortage prompts move of Hawaii Fire’s dispatch center

“We look at it more as an exercise and an opportunity to work together and test our technology.”

Police Chief Benjamin Moszkowicz was referring the decision to move Hawaii Fire Department’s fire and Emergency Medical Services dispatchers from Hilo’s Central Fire Station on Kinoole Street into the police’s dispatch center at 349 Kapiolani St.


The reason is a staffing shortage of fire and EMS dispatchers, according to a written statement from Cyrus Johnasen, spokesman for Mayor Mitch Roth.

“The temporary merger could disrupt regular services, though significant interruptions are not expected,” the statement said. “Fire officials will continue to monitor the temporary merger and will make adjustments as necessary to ensure the health and safety of the public.”

“So, right now, we’re down to staffing basically one (dispatcher) per shift,” Hawaii Fire Chief Kazuo Todd told the Tribune-Herald on Friday. “As far as our total staffing, it’s not like we’re lacking in staff so much. We have 16 positions to run our dispatch. We have, technically, seven regular employees that have completed training and work as dispatchers. And we have about seven that are hired and are going through training at the moment.

“Our problems lie that in our existing seven, we just got a resignation the other day, (and) two of our personnel are out on leave due to personal issues. That’s brought it down to four available people, and you just can’t run a 24-hour operation with just four people. People need vacation and time off.”

Moszkowicz said HPD “has space at our dispatch center” to help the fire department through its staffing predicament.

“We’re a little cramped, but as it turned out, we were able to carve out some space for them to come over so we can both be co-located,” Moszkowicz said.

The move, which Moszkowicz described as “more a co-location than merger,” occurred Thursday night.

“The concern is, if one person at a time has to use the restroom or something happens, then they probably shouldn’t be in the place by themselves,” he said. “In a way, it helps make things more efficient.”

Moszkowicz noted a large dispatch center that will house police, fire and EMS dispatchers is under construction adjacent to the Mohouli Heights Senior Neighborhood in Hilo. He called the move “a prelude to what’s to come in, hopefully, the first quarter of next year when we get the new emergency operations dispatch center.”

Construction of the center, which began in October 2021, was originally expected to be complete by now.

The estimated completion date had been pushed back to September 2023 prior to the current projection of the first quarter of 2024. Moszkowicz said he learned of the new projected completion date in a meeting of Roth’s cabinet.

The construction delays were caused by supply shortages and shipping problems during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The project had a budget of $25 million, but that likely will increase because of the delays and inflation.

When the center is completed, the current dispatch centers will still be used as backup facilities.

“We understand that you may have concerns regarding this change, but rest assured that we are taking this matter very seriously,” Todd said in a written statement to Big Island residents dated Wednesday. “We are actively working on long-term solutions to address staffing challenges and are committed to returning to separate dispatch systems as soon as it becomes feasible.”

Todd told the Tribune-Herald it’s expected to take “a couple of months to close the gap, but right now, it’s full-steam ahead.”

According to Todd, he spent Thursday night and early Friday morning helping his dispatchers move to the police dispatch center and handled a dispatch call himself when other hands were busy.

“I’m not trained as a dispatcher,” he said.

“But we managed to get assistance where it was needed.”

Todd thanked Moszkowicz “for assisting us with our current difficulties with our staffing issues. And leaning on him, kind of as a big brother, has been extremely beneficial.”

Moszkowicz said he’s happy police are able to help the fire department.

“They’re kind of in a bit of a pinch, and like we’d help anybody else, we’re happy to help them, get them back on their feet and get them back to their own facility,” he said.

“And we’re looking forward to working together in the future.”

Email John Burnett at

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