HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu Fire Department is asking the City Council for funds to purchase a new helicopter. HFD said the aircraft is larger, has more power and is much safer than their three current choppers.

The HFD aviation program is on call 24/7. Their helicopters are in the air every day conducting rescues, fighting fires or training.

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Last year alone they responded to 623 land and ocean rescues, 30 wildland fires and 144 rescues between Jan. 1 and April of this year alone.

HFD Battalion Chief Robert Thurston said that puts a lot of wear-and-tear on the aging aircraft, all built back in the 90s, and that some of them have already reached more than 11,000 hours of air time.

“You don’t see too many 1990 vehicles driving around on the freeway but yet we’re putting our pilots our personnel and the public we serve in them.”

Robert Thurston, HFD Battalion Chief

HFD recently requested $12 million from the City Council for a new dual-engine chopper,

Thurston said that makes more sense since two of their helicopters need to be completely rebuilt, which would cost around $2 million each.

“It’s a better use of taxpayer dollars to invest that money in the latest technology, the latest equipment and provide a safer environment for the rescues we perform,” Thurston explained. “The aircraft we are requesting would be equipped with two engines and two systems. So the safety factor of that is increased exponentially.”

That means if one engine goes down, there’s a backup. And dual engines mean the aircraft has more power.

“It has more hoisting capability,” said Thurston. “So we may be able to carry more water for brush fires and things of that nature.”

Currently, when HFD rescues someone they tow them below the helicopter from a wire–which can be very dangerous.

“There’s all the weather issues. You have wind, you have rain and you have all of the elements that we can’t control. Then you obviously have wires and trees and other things,” Thurston said.

Thurston said the new helicopter would be large enough for them to bring them into the aircraft, close the doors and fly away.

And he added that most fire departments across the country already have twin-engine aircraft.

In a statement, Council Member Calvin Say said:
“I continue to support Honolulu Fire Department’s initiatives in providing safety for the residents of O’ahu.”

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The new helicopter is part of the Mayor’s Capital Improvement Project budget. The City Council will discuss the proposal on May 10th.