HFD grilled over training, safety procedures in the air, on the water

Local News

The Honolulu Fire Department’s training and safety procedures are being called into question.

Witness video shows a firefighter falling from a helicopter rescue net on Sept. 2 during a rescue at Diamond Head trail. He was badly injured.

In June, firefighter Cliff Rigsbee died from injuries during a rescue watercraft training exercise.

KHON2 pressed the fire department on safety concerns, “When it comes to trail rescues, how does HFD determine who is air-lifted and who is walked out?”

“That determination is made at the scene,” explained Fire Chief Manuel Neves.

The chief says the determination is made by an incident commander, the battalion chief, and the pilot – but the pilot has the last say.

Neves adds that HFD would rather walk victims down the trail than use helicopter operations.

“Have there been any instances where you look back and think, ‘We should not have used helicopter operations when it comes to particular hiker rescues’?” KHON2 asked.

“We do a post-incident analysis on every incident, every training session. I can’t say never, but I’m sure certain times we think, ‘Well, we could have done it better,’ or a different way,” replied Neves.

As for rescue watercraft training, Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, the union representing the workforce, gave us numbers: HFD requires 56 hours of training versus Ocean Safety’s 200-hour certification course.

“Do you think those numbers are misaligned? Should HFD have more training when it comes to ocean rescues?” KHON2 asked.

“We always evaluate our programs, look at other ways to do better at what we do,” responded Neves. “Our training is basic. If we have to swim, we swim. If we have to paddle a surfboard, we will. If we need a rescue watercraft, we will.”

“You said training is basic. Should it not be basic? Should it be more strenuous?” we pressed.

“All of our training, we try to make it realistic as possible. We can’t have training at a lower level and expect firefighters to perform at a higher level when there’s an actual incident,” Neves answered.

Honolulu City Councilman Brandon Elefante says he will be following up with HFD to ensure that proper protocols are in place when it comes to training resources.

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