Big Island fire department stations in desperate need of upgrades
November 1, 2023, 3:00 AM HST
* Updated November 1, 7:28 AM
Keanu Shimaoka is a paramedic with the Hawai’i Fire Department, where some days he’ll go 24-hours straight without sleep.
With a shortage in paramedics on the island, he and his fellow first-responders have a high-pressure job, and when they can, they need to get as much shut-eye as possible.
“It’s paramount that we are well rested because not only is it safe for us but also for our decision making and our ability to perform on calls that count so that we’ll be at our best,” he said.
Right now, when it’s time for him to rest, he has to do so in a small room with five others, where twin beds are positioned wall-to-wall.
And according to HFD captain Mike Jackson at the station, the space might get even tighter.
“They’re talking about adding another guy here, which we need, but where are we going to put him?” he said, humbly.
The Honoka’a fire station also only has one toilet and one shower, shared amongst the five or more individuals at a time and is among several stations on the island that are in need of upgrades.
After a long day or night of fighting everything from wildfires to house fires, Hawai’i Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Eric Moller said while they’re grateful to be of service, they wouldn’t mind a little more comfort.
“Because it is their home away from home, we have to make it as nice as possible. It’s about providing an environment and atmosphere where firefighters can come back from a fire to properly decontaminate themselves, relax and get ready for the next response,” he said.
Other stations in need of repairs or upgrades include Pahala’s fire station, and Hilo’s downtown central fire station, that also happens to be the busiest and the oldest on the island. Mold, rusted lockers, dilapidated ceilings, dirt and dust encompass the facility, which will be undergoing upgrades soon.
The HaiHai station in Hilo was the last fire station constructed on the island, built for $13 million in 2017. The Pahoa station, built between 2007 and 2008, cost around $3 million.
Moller said now is an opportune moment to prioritize getting the stations upgraded since more funding is being prioritized toward fire prevention in Hawai’i.
“We are not doing a service to our personnel having these stations that are too small for their operation,” he said.
Assistant Fire Chief Ian Chadwick, who helps to oversee grants that help fund the county fire department, said in the meantime, the issue persists.
“We want to make sure our firefighters in their living environment that they’re not being exposed to the vehicle exhaust,” he said. “So if you have their kitchen and a fire engine parked right outside and the window opens to get fresh air, you’re getting diesel exhaust.”
“The Department of Public Works has been excellent in identifying the areas we need to improve. It’s a symbiotic relationship between DPW and the fire service and we look forward to making these better stations for the firefighters,” he said.