At a cost of nearly $11 million, station No. 43 in East Kapolei is the Honolulu Fire Department’s newest. Although the state-of-the-art building has not been officially dedicated, an engine company has called it home for the past 18 months.
Fire department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig said HFD deployed the engine ahead of schedule because of the difficulty in meeting the required response time of nine minutes in a suburban setting.
“This area is growing, everyone's seen that,” said Seelig. “As it grows, we're going to need to have additional resources here.”
In an ongoing effort to augment its resources, the fire department had planned on deploying a ladder company to the new firehouse sometime this year. However, that plan is now on hold after Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a $20 million cost-cutting plan Wednesday for all but one city department. The mayor said the restrictions are needed to reel in a projected $26 million deficit to the city’s $2.16 billion operating budget for the current fiscal year. The fire department is tasked with cutting $2.2 million, or about 2.4 percent of its total budget.
“Recommendations came back from the police, fire or EMS with what they could live with, what cuts they could do, and then we went forward,” the mayor told KITV4 in an interview Wednesday. “People expect us to manage the cost of government, and this is about managing those costs to make sure that we do not run out of money.”
Seelig said the earliest a ladder company could be deployed to the East Kapolei fire station is January. That means three platoons of fire fighters will have to wait before moving into their new quarters.
“So, the new ladder would've been 15 positions that we're not going to put here at this time,” said Seelig. “However, we do expect that in the future we're going to be able to have the ladder present because this area is growing.”
Seelig added East Kapolei residents should not be overly concerned about the delay in deploying the ladder company, since there are more than enough HFD resources to respond to an emergency. There are currently 15 ladder companies throughout Oahu, with a total of 73 companies at 43 fire stations.
“Presently, there is no lack of resources and there will be no diminishment of ability to respond to an emergency in this area,” said Seelig. “So, they shouldn't be concerned with our ability to get to their emergency.”
However, Honolulu residents may be troubled by the city’s projected budget deficit for the next fiscal year, estimated to be as much as $156 million. The mayor said that’s mainly due to fixed costs such as debt service and health and pension benefits for city workers.
However, the projected shortfall comes even before fire fighters receive an arbitration award after hearings were held in Honolulu March 11-15. In July, Honolulu police officers received a benefits package totaling $200 million over the next four years, which includes wage increases, standards of conduct pay and health benefits.
“We need to manage our government fiscally responsible, (and) look for cuts, be more efficient with our services,” said Caldwell, “but, the cost of government never goes down, it only goes up.”
There are nearly 2,000 police officers within the Honolulu Police Department, but with roughly 1,100 fire fighters, HFD is among the largest metropolitan fire departments in the country.
The starting pay for a fire recruit is about $44,700 per year, while police recruits are paid about $53,000 annually.
As part of the budget restriction, the fire department is also cutting its recruit class from 48 to 24 members, and delaying the start date from October to January.
“As long as that doesn't go on too long, it won't have any significant impact on our ability to sustain our staffing,” said Seelig.