Hawai‘i Fire chief encourages public to submit testimony in favor of an air ambulance program

Listen to this Article
4 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

With only one aeromedical provider in the state, Hawai‘i Fire Chief Kazuo Todd is urging Big Island residents to submit testimony in support of a measure being discussed in the legislature that would fund a statewide air ambulance program, bringing twin-engine helicopters to Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i and Maui Counties.

According to SB 3126 D1, the existing system of interisland transport of patients for health care services is overburdened with only one aeromedical provider for the state. The new program would create a cost-sharing partnership with the Department of Health bringing helicopters and funding to operate the program to Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i and Maui Counties.

Cost to start the program would be $18 million.

A public hearing is scheduled in three House committees on Tuesday: Health and Homelessness, Finance and Transportation. Hearings start at 11 a.m. Click here to watch the first meeting online. Click here to submit testimony.

The state’s sole aeromedical service, Global Medical Response, owns and operates Hawai‘i Life Flight and REACH, which is the medevac service on Maui.

“The Maui Medevac model is a great example of a public (State and County)-private (AMR and REACH) partnership and collaboration,” said Tiffany Lightfoot, who submitted testimony on behalf of Global Medical Response during the Senate committee hearings. “This EMS model has worked for 20 years to service rural Maui County and has proven to be an effective redundancy for our statewide aeromedical system. We, GMR, are supportive of a public-private collaboration.”


Todd said interisland travel with a helicopter on each island would bolster support for a state response to an emergency, whether it’s medical, search and rescue, fire suppression or law enforcement.

Interisland aeromedical services would be modeled after Maui’s medevac service, where the legislature appropriated funds to buy a helicopter, a twin-engine bird with capability of medical transport between Maui and O‘ahu, in 2007.

The Department of Health cost shares the helicopter with Maui. Bills for services and private sector entities are contracted to provide the pilots, aircraft maintenance technicians, and the medical flight staff. The legislature finds that reliable aeromedical transport is essential.

If the bill passes, the Department of Health shall provide funds for the provision and maintenance of a rotary-wing aircraft; counties shall provide funds for the operations of the rotary-wing aircraft, including flight crew and medical staff; and the state and counties shall identify and document applicable federal regulations and jurisdictions, and shall amend the memorandum of agreement as necessary.

The bill requires cost-sharing for program operations and maintenance and revenue sharing between the state and Hawaiʻi, Kaua‘i and Maui Counties.


The Hawai‘i Fire Department received donations through the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation that will allow them to buy an Air Bus H145 helicopter. While the department has two choppers, Todd said they are only designed to fly by what the pilot can see in his line of sight.

Donors raised $12 million for the helicopter, which will be purchased through the nonprofit. It’s expected to be built and donated to Hawai‘i County sometime in 2025. Todd said it will cost about $4 million to fuel, pay for pilots and cover maintenance.

The new helicopter would be equipped with night vision and IFR, or instrument flight rules, meaning the aircraft is flown using only the instruments with no visual references.

“The closest bird that can do that is U.S. Coast Guard’s helicopter the Dolphin, based on O‘ahu,” Todd said.

Todd said a helicopter with night vision capabilities would be a game changer for the department in their ocean rescues.


“For me, when we talk about our fishermen who capsize we’re really not equipped to get out to them,” the chief said. “This chopper is designed with the external hoist. It would allow us to do rescues.”

Todd thought specifically about the night on Feb. 18 when Kala’iokealaula Ashley Nicole Reyes Kanekoa, 29, of Kea‘au, fell off a cliff into the ocean in Puna. Hawai‘i Fire Department chopper couldn’t be deployed because it was too dark.

The U.S. Coast Guard did arrive two hours after Kanekoa fell into the water who was later found further dead after the ocean pulled her body south.

“We’re talking about shaving off an hour and hour and a half and I think it’s critical,” Todd said.

Todd said the new helicopter would be stationed at the Kailua station or Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport.

“The goal would be able to have these choppers respond statewide,” Todd said. “The ability to mobilize would definitely be improved with this system.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at
Read Full Bio

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments