HFD responds to union concerns that lack of choppers affects safety

Smoke and flames from Monday night’s brush fire in Kunia could be seen for miles.

What wasn’t seen was a helicopter helping to battle the fire that ultimately scorched 200 acres.

It’s a story we’ve been following since last week. Honolulu firefighters are using one of the police department’s helicopters because both fire helicopters are down for maintenance.

“There’s no question the helicopter was the first thing that came to mind. That definitely would have helped the situation,” said Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

Lee said having a helicopter in the skies would have helped firefighters Monday.

“We only have eyes on the ground and having the chopper pilot, he can see everything that’s going on in the air and sometimes he diverts what he’s doing to protect us as winds start to change,” Lee said.

The fire helicopter was not used to battle the Kunia fire and officials say there were a number of reasons.

“The wildland fire was close to homes. We do not drop water next to home for safety purposes, also with the time, we do not do water drops at night as well,” said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. David Jenkins.

Jenkins said even with the helicopters working, the decision not to use them would have remained the same.

But Lee said not having helicopters affects operations and safety.

“It is a big issue of firefighters’ safety to not have the water drops or to not have the capability that we normally have with our helicopters,” Lee said.

“With regards to Capt. Lee, with respect to what he said, yes, safety is a prime concern for both the administration and the union leadership and the pilots are very happy with the aircraft that they’re using with the police helicopter,” Jenkins said.

HFD said one of the helicopters will be operating soon and the other shortly after.

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