State fines Honolulu Fire Department in connection with deadly Marco Polo fire

The state has cited and fined the Honolulu Fire Department thousands of dollars in connection with the deadly Marco Polo fire.

The blaze in July killed three people and destroyed dozens of units.

Hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze which was the largest high rise fire in state history.

A cause has yet to be released, but the state says HFD put its own firefighters at risk by not protecting them from asbestos exposure.

Asbestos was an issue Always Investigating first looked into following the blaze. Several firefighters and residents told us of concerns they were exposed to the hazardous material at the fire scene, and they questioned if proper measures were taken to ensure safety.

KHON2 received a copy of the citation that was handed down by the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health (HIOSH) division.

A complaint was initially made by the Hawaii Firefighters Association after concerns about possible asbestos contamination.

“Because of the age of the building, it was pretty obvious that it would contain asbestos and other contaminants,” HFA President Bobby Lee said. “In this regard, we were concerned that they didn’t bag the firefighter’s personal protective equipment right after they left the scene.”

According to the citation, HIOSH did an on-site inspection and found that proper procedures weren’t followed.

We learned only one fire company bagged their gear at the scene and the rest of the companies didn’t bag their gear until they came back to their stations or until the next morning.

Protective gear from Marco Polo fire fight taken out of service nearly one month later – Aug. 10, 2017

Firefighters were worried right after the blaze because of the old building’s asbestos, and no management instructions to handle gear any differently. The matter came up at a fire commission meeting last month when commissioner Max Hannemann asked the fire chief: “If it was asbestos in terms of the turnouts (protective outerwear) … before returning to stations, is there any different procedure?”

Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves answered: “There’s no difference. We have a decontamination process and if we determine the turnouts are not usable, then we take them out of service.”

HIOSH said as a result, the fire trucks and stations could be contaminated with asbestos or other hazardous materials.

“The job that our firefighters go through, there is a lot of dangers and it’s throughout their whole career that the potential to be exposed to contaminants are there,” Lee said.

HFD will have to pay $7,000, but the department has 20 days to appeal the decision.

KHON2 reached out to HFD for a comment, but was told one wouldn’t be available until Monday.

We’ll let you know what happens.

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