Firehouse® Interview

Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio K. Leonardi discusses the issues facing his department, its operations and plans for the future.


Attilio K. Leonardi was appointed fire chief in April 1998 by the newly formed Honolulu Fire Commission. The Honolulu Fire Department serves the 11th-largest city in the United States and is responsible for providing fire protection, suppression and rescue services for the entire island of Oahu (604...


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Attilio K. Leonardi was appointed fire chief in April 1998 by the newly formed Honolulu Fire Commission. The Honolulu Fire Department serves the 11th-largest city in the United States and is responsible for providing fire protection, suppression and rescue services for the entire island of Oahu (604 square miles). The department serves a population of approximately 900,000 and deploys a work force of 1,145 personnel.

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Chief Attilio K. Leonardi of the Honolulu Fire Department

Leonardi has been with the Honolulu Fire Department for 32 years. He has a master's degree in public administration, a bachelor's degree in business management and an associate's degree in fire science. Leonardi graduated from the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and received a fellowship from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2000. In 2002, he earned the professional designation of "Chief Fire Officer" by the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. He is an active member of numerous local, city, state, and federal fire-related organizations.

The interview was conducted by Harvey Eisner.

Firehouse: You were the first fire chief appointed by the new Honolulu Fire Commission in 1998. What brought about that change?

Leonardi: The mayor started changing fire chiefs every year. In the interim, the mayor developed a panel and selected the previous chief before me and I became the deputy. The commission took a while to get established, about three years, and then I became the first chief after that.

Firehouse: You have an extensive educational background.

Leonardi: I think they wanted the fire chief to have credentials. I think that was one of the key factors.

Firehouse: You were accepted to go to Harvard with several other chiefs.

Leonardi: It was eight at the time. The program for senior executives. I try to keep up my EFO (Executive Fire Officer) and I just got the CFOD, Chief Officer Designee. I feel if I keep up, show the other guys that you've got to keep moving, you just can't be stagnant, I thought I would be a role model.

Firehouse: Please review your major goals when you took over, or perhaps your vision for the department.

Leonardi: Number one was terrorism. We had the Oklahoma bombing and we were starting to focus on that. We had to get our department up to snuff on terrorism-type activities.

Another was to develop an EMT-B program for the department. Right now, we're only first responders with defibrillator training. We wanted to move up a notch or so on the medical section.

Our certification program, right now we don't certify our firefighters and so we hooked up with IFSAC (International Fire Service Accreditation Congress). I guess we're going to be the center for IFSAC certification in Hawaii. They give you five years to develop this, and so we're well on our way to that. That's a major initiative.

We've had a lot of priorities - to upgrade the department equipment, upgrade our training, bring our department up to a professional level.

One other priority was to get involved more nationally with what's going on around the United States and to get the public in Hawaii to recognize that firefighters don't only fight fires. We did that by bringing on a PIO (public information officer).

When I went back to the TRADE (Training Resources and Data Exchange) conference at Emmitsburg (the National Fire Academy), the Las Vegas PIO gave a presentation, and I was so impressed with that, I came back, developed that program here, got the funding for a temporary PIO.

We interviewed people and then we sent our PIO to Las Vegas and to another city and he came back and developed our program. That's one of the strongest things we ever did. I mean, every time we did something, we were in the paper. It's really heightened the level of professionalism of the firefighters and it's worked out real well. He just retired. I hated to lose him.

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