Hazmat Response in Honolulu

Honolulu is a beautiful city on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and the Honolulu Fire Department provides fire protection for the entire island, except for the military installations and Honolulu International Airport. I was surprised to learn it is the only...


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Honolulu is a beautiful city on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and the Honolulu Fire Department provides fire protection for the entire island, except for the military installations and Honolulu International Airport. I was surprised to learn it is the only fire department on the island.

Honolulu’s fire department was formed in 1850 by King Kamehameha III. It was the first fire department in the Hawaiian Islands and the only one in the United States established by a ruling monarch. Honolulu firefighters were volunteers until 1893, when the legislature authorized funding for salaries for them.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Honolulu Fire Department dispatched three engine companies to fight fires caused by the bombing. Engines 1, 4 and 6 responded and firefighting efforts resulted in the deaths of two fire captains and a hoseman and injuries to six other firefighters. The firefighters killed and wounded received Purple Hearts, the only civilian firefighters in the United States ever receiving such an award.

Today, the HFD has over 1,000 uniformed personnel under the leadership of Chief Attilio Leonardi. The department protects the entire island of Oahu, 597 square miles and a population of 874,300 (75% of the population of Hawaii), using 42 engine companies, six tankers, 14 truck companies, two rescue squads, one brush unit, two hazardous materials units, two helicopters and a fireboat. Companies are located in 42 fire stations and organized into five battalions. It is the 16th largest fire department in the United States.

Because no mutual aid is available from the other Hawaiian islands, Honolulu firefighters must rely on their own resources to handle any emergencies that arise. (Limited mutual aid does occur between Honolulu and the federal fire departments on Oahu military installations and refineries, which have their own fire departments.) Honolulu does not provide emergency medical service through the fire department; EMS is provided by a separate city department.

The HFD’s Charles H. Thurston Training Center is located next to Station 8 Mokulele Fire Station, near Honolulu International Airport. While I was visiting the center, the familiar sound of a firehouse siren activated at the fire station next door. I was surprised to hear the siren, since there are no volunteer fire companies on the island. As it turns out, fire stations located near major intersections are equipped with house sirens that sound when an alarm is dispatched to warn motorists of fire apparatus entering the street.

The HFD’s Hazardous Materials Team was placed in service in 1990 and responds to all petroleum, radioactive materials and toxic chemical incidents on the island. There are two hazardous materials units in separate companies, Hazmat 1 is based in the City of Honolulu at Station 32 (Kalihi Uka Fire Station) and Hazmat 2 is located in Honolulu County at Station 40 (Kapolei Fire Station). Both Hazmat 1 and Hazmat 2 are 2000 Pierce vehicles. Station 32 houses Engine 32 as well as Hazmat 1. Station 40 houses Engine 40, Tower 40 and Brush 40 as well as Hazmat 2 and is Battalion 4 Headquarters. Engine 32 is staffed by five technicians and Tower 40 also has five technicians. Hazmat 1 and Hazmat 2 each have five technicians. There are an additional 60 trained hazmat technicians stationed through out the island.

Honolulu firefighters work 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Their shifts are called “watches,” so they have first, second and third watch. Both hazmat units are equipped similarly with typical hazmat decontamination, patching and plugging tools and supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), breathing apparatus and miscellaneous tools. Each also carries a portable weather station, an underwater digital camera and a thermal imaging camera. The federal fire department at Pearl Harbor has a non-dedicated hazmat team available for mutual aid. The Honolulu International Airport Fire Department is operated by the state and foam units are available for mutual aid.

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