Fire boat, idle for five months and counting, will be replaced - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Fire boat, idle for five months and counting, will be replaced

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The state plans to retire the city's aging fire boat that's been out of service for five months because of concerns about leaks in its hull.  And taxpayers have continued paying the firefighters assigned there even though the boat has remained at the dock.

The Moku Ahi was put into service 24 years ago, in 1990. 

The last time the fire boat actually fought a fire on a vessel in the ocean was in September of 2011, when a sailboat burned off Waikiki. 

She's was pulled out of service last October, when a leak raised questions about her seaworthiness. 

This week, divers are assessing the structural integrity of the old boat's hull. 

The city staffs the boat with firefighters but the state pays for the $1.5 million annual cost of staffing and operations. 

"After five years since its last dry dock and nearly 25-year-old vessel, it probably doesn't make sense to continue its service," said Randy Grune, the state's deputy transportation director for harbors. 

Grune said the state plans to phase out the old boat at the end of June. Until then, city firefighters will continue staffing the fire boat, as they have for the past five months even though it's been grounded. 

"The crew has still been doing other maintenance and operations work on the vessel," said Capt. Terry Seelig, a spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department. "There's lots of equipment on it that needs to be operated on a daily basis, maintained regularly.  And they also have firefighting duties and training requirements so it's not like they're sitting there idle." 

If a shipboard fired happened in the harbor with the fire boat out of commission, Grune said some tugs with water cannons could help put out the flames as well as boats from the Clean Islands Council, made up of a coalition of harbor users. 

Honolulu fire trucks and boats would respond from the docks and shoreline, Seelig said.

Repairing the Moku Ahi, which last went into dry dock five years ago, could cost $500,000, Grune said. 

So Grune said it's cheaper in the long run to buy a more versatile, new boat that could go twice as fast at a cost of $500,000 to $1 million. 

"We believe the new model will be a smaller vessel, a much faster vessel and therefore will require fewer crew members," Grune said. 

It could be a year or more before the state acquires and fully staffs a new vessel, Grune said.  He said the state is consulting a working group of harbor users about exactly who will replace the city firefighters.

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