Honolulu fire chief responds to union's safety concerns

Honolulu fire chief responds to union's safety concerns

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Fire Department Chief Manny Neves told reporters Friday that he's committed to public safety and is working to address concerns raised following a firefighter's death in June and an incident last month that left a firefighter injured.

"We've asked you to come here today to reaffirm the Honolulu Fire Department's commitment to public safety and address misinformation about HFD safety and training programs," Neves said.

On Thursday, the president of the firefighters union called on Neves to step down.

The call came as new video of a helicopter rescue at Diamond Head that left a firefighter injured clearly shows a rescue basket hitting a utility pole seconds before the firefighter fell from it. The firefighter fell about 30 feet, sustaining multiple injuries.

And just three months earlier, firefighter Cliff Rigsbee died in a rough water Jet Ski training accident off Waikiki.

Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, says over the past several months HFD has failed to make immediate changes that would keep firefighters safe.

In response to the criticism, Neves said: "Of course I'm not happy about it. The opinion of the union is very, very important to me."

The chief, however, acknowledged the department should have worked more closely with the union to inform its members of changes.

"We feel we haven't done a good enough job to communicate with the union as far as the informtion and the practices that we are doing," Neves said.

After Rigsbee's death, Hawaii News Now has learned, the administration decided riders would no longer be allowed to sit on the sled of a Jet Ski.  And protocol is to now have two rescue craft in the water whenever firefighters are conducting a drill.

As for the chopper incident, all of the equipment used during the rescue was pulled from service and evaluated. The chief said because of the basket's design, additional safety equipment such as a harness is not required.

"Whether or not we do employ safety restraints in the future, like I said, I don't know right now," Neves said.

Investigations into both accidents are ongoing.

Officials said HFD averages about 300 injury reports a year.

Of those, about 100 are serious enough for the firefighter to have to take off work.

"It sounds like a lot but we have 1,200 fire fighters," Neves said. "We respond to over 50,000 alarms a year -- 150 alarms every day and training."

Neves said most of the injuries that are reported are sprains and strains. Accidents in the water and in the air are very rare.

Officials also said HFD sees an average of two accidents a year involving water craft. The chief said there have been no other incidents with the chopper.

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