Monday, July 16, 2007

The Heat is On

Vicki’s last blog on hot weather got my wheels turning. We’ve been having brush fires here in Hawai‘i due to ongoing drought conditions. The scent of burning wood is in the air. And it’s not that nice autumn smell. This is an odor that makes people sniff the air while anxiety furrows their brows. A few days ago, the front page of our newspaper had a picture of a fireman being carried off by his colleagues because he was overcome with heat prostration during a fight against one of these fires. And these are young people who train hard. They’re in shape.

I got to thinking about the many roles, often dangerous, which are played by the Honolulu Fire Department. The one most people think of is the department’s quick action against fire. They fight building fires, vehicle fires, brush fires, dumpster and rubbish fires, and marine vessel fires. To do this, the fire department, which consists of forty-two stations on the island of O‘ahu (our most populated island, at about 900,000 residents), uses forty-two engine companies, thirteen ladder companies, two rescue companies, two hazardous materials companies, two tower companies, a fireboat company, five tankers, two helicopters, one helicopter tender, and several personal water craft.

In addition to preventing and fighting fires, HFD responds to medcal emergencies, hazardous materials spills and leaks, and search and rescue missions on both land and water. Along with the other members of my family, I’m a surfer (very small waves for me), and we often look up at the sound of helicopter rotors that rattle an otherwise tranquil outing. When we hear those blades, we say a little prayer for whomever those copters are going to help.

Sometimes the helicopters head for the rugged cliffs and mountains to rescue injured hikers, where they drop specially trained HFD rescue squads. One helicopter carries a detachable forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera to help locate lost or missing hikers once night has fallen. Once the hiker has been found, the rescue crew may use a Billy Pugh Rescue Net or a Stokes Litter to extract the person from hard-to-reach or perilous areas.

Often for ocean rescues, the HFD rescue crews use PWC’s, or personal water craft. They work with Honolulu City and County Lifeguards, who have begun a nation-wide training program for ocean rescue situations using these fast machines and the accompanying rescue sleds. Speaking of ocean rescues, HFD’s fireboat, the Mokuahi, responds to marine vessel fires and rescues in the busy, international Honolulu Harbor and up to 3 miles offshore.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of HPD’s activities in a state widely seen as a tourist destination. We need to keep our image warm and friendly, which isn’t usually difficult in such a beautiful place. But danger lurks below the azure waters and velvety mountains intrinsic to this chain of volcanic islands: crashing surf, hidden ocean currents, precipitous cliffs, wild animals (no snakes, though), and the unpredictable human being. It’s a great place for mysteries.

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