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New Fire Station for Airport

Federal grant promises safety upgrades and housing.   

By Melissa Kelsey

Molokai Airport Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Station in Ho`olehua will receive improvements this year, funded by a $6.8 million United States Department of Transportation grant released last Tuesday. The station will be rebuilt so it will comply with national fire safety regulations for airports.  

The current airport fire station does not have enough space to store all of the equipment it is legally required to have, including surplus fire-fighting foam, which environmental regulations prohibit from storing outdoors, according to Molokai Airport Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Carl Brito. Among other shortcomings, the roll-up doors of the current station’s garage are always left open because they do not open fast enough to comply with safety guidelines and there is no space to clean contaminated equipment.   

The new station will be built in a safer location, farther away from the airport and closer to the traffic control center, according to Brito. Firefighter William Prince said it will include a decontamination room to clean gear that has been exposed to bio-hazardous substances. The station will also feature a bunk room, showers, kitchen and fitness area for improved quality of life for the firefighters.

“It is going to dramatically upgrade our lifestyle,” said firefighter Timothy Wayer, who explained that until they were provided with temporary housing last year, the airport firefighters had to sleep in tents or their own cars between shifts. Most airport fire crew members commute from off-island.

Brito explained that these amenities will allow the firefighters to live at the station and would give the option of keeping the station open 24 hours per day instead of the 12 hours per day it is currently open. However, scheduled flights coming to Molokai only arrive within a 12-hour timeframe. Prince said state officials are still working on the specifications of the building plans to make sure all the federal regulations are met.    

Because the airport fire station is a federally funded state facility instead of a county fire station, state engineers working on the project can apply for exemptions from county building permits because of their own stringent guidelines. As a result, Brito estimates that the building will be built within the next two years. He said construction is scheduled to begin this summer. An environmental impact statement has already been filed.   

The Molokai Airport fire station employs three firefighters, and requires a minimum of one on duty at all times. The firefighters practice a three-minute emergency response using foam to stop fire from going through an airplane’s fuselage in case of fire. As a backup, the firefighters have a sophisticated communications coordination system with organizations such as the county fire stations on Molokai and the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.   

Brito said it is routine for airports like Molokai’s to receive funding to meet safety guidelines. Other federally funded airports nationwide received similar grants.

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