WAILUKU, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Maui County Council cut funding for two fire battalion chiefs just as the island deals with an increase in wildfires.
The mayor wants those positions restored and he's not alone.
Fire Chief Jeff Murray said the positions that were left vacant because of retirement. He said he was in the process of filling those positions. But before he could, council cut the funding.
Mayor Alan Arakawa said there have already been 134 brush fires so far this year, compared to 136 total brush fires last year. President of the Hawaii Firefighters Union Bobby Lee said this is not the time to be cutting positions.
"If you've been watching the news over the last few months, almost every day there have been fire incidents on Maui. So when you start cutting resources…it's becoming more and more of a safety issue," said Lee.
The changes went into effect at the start of the fiscal year on July 1st.
On July 2nd, a fire broke out in Maalaea. It trapped hikers and burned over four thousand acres.
Chief Murray said they had to work with just one battalion chief that day instead of two.
"Two personnel got separated…and in the process of running from the fire…physically running... they got separated from the two other members of their crew," Murray said. "At the same time our helicopter was rescuing people on the mountainside that were going to be overrun by fire."
Mayor Arakawa said cutting critical positions means firefighters could become overwhelmed, which could lead to mistakes, which could cost lives.
Maui County Council Chairman Mike White said although they have cut some of the funding for those two positions, they have not cut into the department's budget as a whole.
"I think part of the confusion is that while these are being termed 'cuts,' they're really not cuts to the budget because the fire department's budget has increased every year," White said.
"All the council is able to do is reduce the overall employee count by department," he said.
White said he hopes the department can think of other ways to make it work.
"We feel that we need to watch out for taxpayers' money…we would hope to see some additional creativity in cutting back certain areas that they could."
Chief Murray said he is hoping for a budget amendment.