Fire official explains why rescue copters are out of service at same time

The Honolulu Fire Department’s rescue helicopters are supposed to help save lives and protect property — but both of them are out of commission.

KHON2 News first reported the problem after noticing that the Honolulu Police Department’s helicopter was being used instead to rescue a hiker over the weekend.

The fire department’s copters have apparently been out of service since April due to extensive wear and tear, and in the meantime, HFD is borrowing the police department’s spare helicopter for their search and rescue missions.

The department stresses that the safety of its firefighters is a priority and said borrowing the police’s copter is safe.

“It’s a similar helicopter, identical in its brand and model, similar in its construction and design as far as components,” explained Chief Battalion Terry Seelig. “We’ve worked with HPD in the past, and vice versa, so there’s a familiarity with the aircraft. They have assisted us with missions in the past with dropping water on wildfires.”

But according to the president of the firefighters union, both departments may have the same helicopter model, but their rescue tools aren’t the same.

“We use a bucket system underneath the chopper, for water drops and to pick up a person from the mountain,” Bobby Lee said. “Police, they don’t do that, so the pilot has to be a lot more concerned with how they operate the chopper.”

Still, it’s a necessary inconvenience for the fire department for now while both of its helicopters are temporarily grounded.

“We’ll work it out,” said Seelig, when asked what would happen if the police department needs to use their spare helicopter at the same time HFD needs it for search and rescue missions. “There are options. We anticipate one of the helicopters will be back in service within a month, and the second a month or two after that.

“Let’s hope nothing happens where we have to contract out a helicopter.”

City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said over the weekend that the city offered to buy HFD a new helicopter, but it was declined. But Seelig said they are in talks with the city to purchase a new helicopter, which will cost up to $6 million and take a few years to complete.

KHON2 News asked Seelig why wasn’t the public informed of the helicopters being down since April.

“Probably an oversight on our part,” he said, “and we thought it was business as usual for us to work with HPD to work in a cooperative relationship. It’s seamless. We used HPD’s support many times, and have used helicopter operations.

“I think it became noticeable for high visibility rescues. We’ll try to be more diligent about keeping people informed on what interests them,” Seelig said.

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