Puko`o Fire Station to be Relocated
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
With flood zones changing and concerns about rising water levels, Molokai has been participating in an important discussion that’s taking place globally: where can we move? Recently, that conversation focused on the Puko`o Fire Station, a small outpost that provides emergency services to the east Molokai community. Its current location near the ocean has been identified as a flood zone during tsunamis and hurricanes.
Contrary to some rumors, a meeting held earlier this month was not to announce the closure of the Puko`o Fire Station but rather to discuss its relocation.
“It is our hope that we can have a dialogue as to what you hope to see; the fire dept. is not moving out of Mana`e,” said County Councilmember Stacy Crivello. “What what we need to hear about why we probably have to move mauka. [We need to]put our firefighters in a safety area. It’s not if we have some sort of flood or tsunami, it’s when.”
Maui Fire Chief Jeffery Murray thanked the dozens of attendees for their support of the fire department.
“Basically we want to hear from the community how we can better serve you and ultimately we want to move that station out of the flood and inundation zone and into a hurricane safe building,” he said. “We want to pick your brains on where we could find a property [to] build a plan…. I know this has been talked about for many years. This is your station, your department, and we want to serve you as best as possible.”
Attendees suggested five possible locations that the fire department will explore. Murray suggested looking at either county or state land, or the possibility of land donations from a private owner. He said currently, the fire station is on land leased from the state. Murray said keeping the station within a five-mile radius of residences will best serve the community and also keep insurance rates down. He also suggested it be near Kilohana School.
Other important factors to consider are access to water lines and sites without graves or archeological interest, which would slow down the process, he said.
Former Molokai Planning Commissioner Zhantell Dudoit Lindo said during the recent community plan update process, priority was given to looking a relocation of a number of facilities, including the Puko`o station.
Another concern for the station is lack of personnel. Currently only two firefighters are on duty at any time, said Murray. In case of a fire, National Fire Protection Standards require four firefighters on duty: two to enter the building while two stay outside. Murray said for the last eight years, he has been asking for funding for additional staff at the Puko`o station, but so far it has not been provided. In Puko`o, he said, firefighters sometimes have to make tough calls that would force them to choose between following the law and potentially saving lives.
“[According to national standards], you cannot go in with just one person,” he said. “But we have cases where the officer on scene makes the best decision to save people… We want our guys to be safe, because if they’re not, we cannot help you.”
Murray said he believes building the new station will help the cause.
“It’s like the ‘Field of Dreams’… build it and they will come,” he said. “We will build it with growth in mind, and I believe we’ll have a better chance [of funding for additional personnel].”
Former Battalion Chief and now Fire Commissioner Travis Tancayo said despite the challenges, he believes having a fire station, even if it’s understaffed, is better than nothing. In the early 90s, several people pushed to establish the Puko`o station, he recalled. Whenever something happened on the east end, residents would go to individuals they knew were medics. The chief at the time made the decision that instead of adding a man to Kaunakakai and Ho`olehua stations, he would use those two staff to create the Puko`o station for the community.
“It was better something than nothing,” he said. “…It created both a good and bad situation. You gotta look at the positive, there’s a lot of things a firefighter can do before other personnel [from other stations] get there.”
While the meeting focused on the Puko`o station, residents of west Molokai have also stated the need for a fire station on that side, where the closest fire personnel are in Ho`olehua.
“Residents on the west side have considerably higher insurance rates because we do not have a fire station within a reasonable mileage,” said Jill McGowan, via email. “As a resident of the West end I would like to see the West Molokai fire station get on the budget for Maui County 2017… Our taxpayers dollars are going for emergency services that we do not have on the west side.”
For the Puko`o station, the next step is exploring the location options suggested by the community and coming back to discuss the options.
“To be totally honest, we came here with no agenda, all we wanted was to listen to the community,” said Assistant Chief Val Martin. “Because at the end of the day, we don’t choose where the fire station goes, the community are the bosses, they have the biggest say.”