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County approves over $2M for fire, disaster prevention

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council approved more than $2 million in funding to be used for fire, ocean and disaster prevention funding during a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

The council members first agreed to accept $580,000 in funding from the state Legislature for lifeguard positions at Ke‘e Beach and Ha‘ena State Park from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024.

Kauai Fire Department Chief Michael Gibson said at the meeting that $100,000 of that funding will also be used to replace the beach’s lifeguard tower at Ke‘e Beach. He added that the department has also been working to replace ocean safety vehicles and rescue equipment over the past year.

“We’ve been replacing the vehicles, ATVs, all the rescue equipment. We got caught up last year with that,” he said. “And this year, the $100,000 will replace the lifeguard tower in Ke‘e. That’s a big plus for us this year.”

The council members also unanimously approved a request to use $1,000,000 of unassigned funding from the county’s 2023-24 operating budget for a new fire engine at Kalaheo Fire Station.

Gibson’s memorandum to Council Chair Mel Rapozo states the department’s “existing fleet of fire engines shows signs of aging and experiences frequent mechanical issues,” adding that they “face daily challenges” in making sure there are enough operational engines available.

According to the memorandum, the department needed three new fire engines during last year’s budget, but it only requested two at a cost of over $1.8 million.

“Although we knew a third replacement fire engine was necessary to maintain our fleet, we felt certain funding for the third engine would be sourced through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant. Unfortunately, that grant was not awarded to us,” the proposal states.

“I think what we learned is that you’ll put whatever you need in the budget (next time),” said County Council member Felicia Cowden, who was supportive of using the surplus county funding.

According to Gibson, it has been projected that it would take two years to receive the new truck due to recent supply chain challenges and heightened demand.

“The demand is so high,” he said.

The county’s eight fire stations each have a fire truck, as well as one water tender stationed in Lihu‘e, according to Gibson. Old trucks are usually used for training, sold at auctions or recycled if they don’t sell, he said.

Gibson mentioned that due to the Aug. 8 Maui wildfires, the department also has upcoming plans to ask the county to purchase two water tenders. The additional two tenders would help with quicker response times, providing the island with a total of three tenders that would be spaced around the island.

He noted fire engines can carry 750 gallons of water, whereas a water tender can carry up to 2,000 gallons of water, allowing them to transport huge amounts of water to a fire scene.

Gibson previously told The Garden Island in November that he estimated each water tender would cost $600,000.

Rapozo said the council was only considering the request for the item currently on the agenda, the Kalaheo fire engine, and said the water tenders would be discussed later.

“I just want to focus it back on this specific Kalaheo fire truck. We will have the discussion when we get to budget,” he said, shortly before all council members voted unanimously in support of using the funding for the new truck.

Gibson previously said the fire department plans to request an increase in funding during the 2024 to 2025 budget season following the Maui wildfires. Last year, the department had a total budget of $41,028,963.

In addition, the Kaua‘i County Council also approved a motion to receive $780,000 in a three-year state funding grant from the Hawai‘i Department of Defense to improve the ability to prevent, respond to and recover from “threats and incidents of terrorism, as well as “all hazards” catastrophic preparedness initiatives.”

According to the request, that funding will be used for services, including supporting first responders, extending communication coverage in isolated areas, purchasing an unmanned aircraft system along with training and subscription services for the Kaua’i Police Department, personal protection equipment for the Kaua’i Fire Department, and construction of the Kaua’i Joint Training Facility.
Source: The Garden Island

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