First responders, experts urge hiking safety as number of rescues rise

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - So far this year, firefighters have been called nearly 150 times to Oahu trails to rescue hikers.

That's on pace to match or top the total seen in 2016, said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. David Jenkins, and is spurring experts to spread the importance of staying safe on trails.

The numbers also come in the wake of several hiking deaths on Oahu. Last Thursday, a 29-year-old hiker was killed after falling over 300 feet off an unsanctioned trail in Punaluu Valley.

"Any time there's a tragedy or any kind of incident it brings to mind that sometimes these are emergencies that aren't necessary, that could be prevented," Jenkins said

As more people head to trails during the summer months, experts warns that many hikers -- novice or otherwise -- can quickly find themselves in dangerous positions.

Avid hiker and expert Barb Bruno warned that gusty winds, high temperatures and rains can all prove challenging on Hawaii's trails.

Bruno has been hiking in the islands for over 30 years and is a coordinator for the Hawaii Trail and Mountain Club.

"If you're hiking and there are trade winds, it can actually make you lose your balance," she said. "Then, if you have a very narrow trail, you could literally fall off."

The number of hiking incident calls to the Honolulu Fire Department has been on the rise.

In 2015, HFD reported 187 hiking rescues. That figure soared in 2016 to 260.

Jenkins said that in the first quarter of 2017 alone, firefighters responded to 51 mountain rescues. By early June, the number of rescues ballooned to nearly 150.

Jenkins said a rescue can cost up at least $15,000 an hour, but the fire department has no intention of making people pay for emergency services.

"People may delay or not even call if they feel they will be charged," he said.

He assured residents that rescue expenses are built into the fire department's budget, but also urged hikers to take precautions to avoid serious incidents.

Bruno agreed, saying the real safety grunt work takes place before tackling the trails -- checking the weather, packing sufficient water and food, and researching the route.

"This may seem like a lot of things to worry about," she said. "But it only takes a few minutes once you've made that initial effort to buy the gear."

Even popular trails like Diamond Head and Manoa Falls can present challenges.

"The problem is, they're deceivingly simple," Bruno said. "Often people don't take it seriously so they don't prepare in the same way they would do for an advanced hike."

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