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Puna to get second ambulance unit

The Hawaii Fire Department station in Puna will have its medical emergency response capability doubled this year when a second ambulance is delivered to the island.

Although the new ambulance has not yet been delivered, the fire department held a blessing ceremony Friday for the new unit at Station 10 in Pahoa.

At the ceremony, fire Chief Darren Rosario said the new unit is the culmination of nearly a decade of work by lawmakers and firefighters around the state.

Puna has long been in need of an additional ambulance unit to alleviate the workload that comes with such a large district.

Battalion Chief Chris Honda said Puna’s large size — it’s big enough to encompass all of Oahu — means there are often too many incidents going on for one unit to respond to.

“Not every fire station has an ambulance, and I don’t know that everyone realizes that,” Honda said, explaining that the fire station in Pahoa has a single ambulance, as do the stations in Keaau and Volcano, while Hilo has two.

Should a second emergency occur as Station 10’s ambulance is responding to another event, the department will have to dispatch an ambulance from Keaau or Hilo, increasing the response time dramatically, depending on where the second incident is.

“That happens quite often,” Honda said. “Almost every day, I think.”

Honda went on to say that the population of Puna has increased year after year, adding to the department’s workload, and last year brought unprecedented challenges due to the Kilauea eruption.

Rosario said ambulances need to be retired after seven years of service or after 200,000 miles. Because of the large distances Puna ambulances have to drive regularly, the department has had to replace its ambulance approximately every three years. A second ambulance would reduce the wear on the Puna ambulance, and decrease the station’s reliance on other ambulances.

“This helps the whole east side of the island,” Honda said.

Because of the clear need for a second ambulance unit in Puna, Rosario said he has worked with lawmakers for years to introduce legislation that would appropriate funding for a Puna ambulance unit.

“We were unsuccessful year after year,” Rosario said.

Although another such bill failed to make progress again last year, Rosario and fire chiefs from neighbor counties met with Gov. David Ige, who authorized $4.5 million for ambulance units on the Big Island, Kauai and the City and County of Honolulu. The Puna unit will account for $1.5 million of that total, which is authorized until the end of the fiscal year in June.

After that, Rosario said, if the state funds the unit full time, the department will hire six people to staff the new unit.

The ambulance, which currently is being built, likely will arrive on the island in August or September, Rosario said, and will be ready for service immediately after.

At Friday’s blessing ceremony, representatives of county and state lawmakers expressed their excitement for the new ambulance unit.

“We want this island to set our EMS standard for the entire state,” said county Managing Director Wil Okabe.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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