David Sproat, who officially retired this week as fire chief of the Kauai Fire Department after nearly 31 years with the department, has at least one regret, and talked about some other unfinished business.
The regret is his failed plan to bring under KFD the private, state-contracted American Medical Response ambulance system.
“We did want to institute fire-based EMS (emergency medical services), and manage the ambulance,” which would save the county and state money and serve the community better.
“I feel that we could have done an excellent job with it. We set up to do it, and it’s just another challenge that could come at a later time,” he said.
“Fire-based EMS is the best EMS that any community can get. And everybody admits it, the firefighters are first to the scene, and so, with fire-based EMS, you would see a huge improvement of quick-response emergency teams,” he said.
“Plus, with the way the department is set up, eventually each station would turn into an ambulance station, an EMS station, so there would be a combination (of) firefighters and emergency medical response people,” said Sproat.
An effort by Sproat and former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka to bring the AMR system into the KFD failed.
“In politics, you win some and you lose some,” Sproat said. But the transition still could happen later, he added.
His last half-day of work was actually a “courtesy” morning Monday spent briefing new Fire Chief Charlie Hiramoto, and attending that afternoon the inauguration of Mayor Bryan Baptiste.
Sproat’s actual last full day of work was Friday, Nov. 29.
“The department has changed tremendously, I think, from when I stepped in (as chief) eight years ago. We’ve instituted a lot of new programs, new positions. We never had any battalion chiefs” before, and now have three, he said.
“We’ve formalized a lot of positions, such as the training specialist, the heavy rescue HAZMAT (hazardous materials) team. We bought a lot of new equipment,” he said.
“We’ve computerized the entire department. Everybody’s on e-mail and computer. Our records management system was put in electronically,” so that mandatory incident reports go statewide and national instantly, he said.
“We’ve almost eliminated the hard copy, almost completely electronics. So that was a huge step forward,” he said.
“Training has gone up tremendously in the department, both budget-wise and in the types of training that we do, the certification. That also applies for the water safety” section, he said.
“Training has increased tremendously, and you can see it actually in the performance of our people,” said Sproat, 57.
“We’ve set a high standard, I think, of professionalism among the firefighters and also among the water safety officers. And they conduct themselves that way,” generating lots of positive public feedback, he continued.
A new administrative battalion chief, Dave Walker, has been hired recently, to help the chief.
“There’s some help for the chief, so the chief won’t be so overwhelmed, that I found myself being so many times.
“So we’ve tried to put in real meaningful programs, and yet there’s a lot more that can be done,” he continued.
New pumpers, a rescue mini-pumper the department designed and that Sproat thinks is the rescue truck of the future for the department, are among the new pieces of equipment the department has acquired recently.
“I tried to get one in every station, to back up the big pumpers, because we’re so rural, and it’s going to save our big trucks,” he said of the new rescue mini-pumper now stationed at Lihu’e.
The firefighters are well-protected with various personal protective equipment (PPE), including lighter gear to wear while fighting brush fires. The house-fire PPE when used for responding to brush fires led to some firefighters suffering from heat exhaustion, because of the heavy weight of the house-fire gear, he said.
There were many other changes during Sproat’s eight years as chief, he recalled.
“I think most gratifying are the changes among the people. We tried to hire smart, and when you hire smart you eliminate your problems.
“I feel really good that we have really good people, we’ve hired good people, we get a good-quality applicant that applies with us,” Sproat said. “We’ve even stepped up the number of firefighters on the line,” with each station having at least five firefighters on duty at any given time.
He plans to retire from paying jobs completely, but plans to remain active in the Waipa Project, a farming and self-sufficiency initiative on the North Shore.
He also plans to spend lots of time outdoors, taking care of family properties on two islands.
“I haven’t had the luxury and the time to really take good care of where we live,” at Kalihi Wai. His father also left him land in North Kohala on the Big Island that he needs to tend to as well, he added.
“And then just do the other things that retired people do, travel,” he said. “Most of my work now will be volunteer, community-service work. No paid job for me. You won’t see me working at the airport security.”
He feels he is leaving the department in capable hands. Hiramoto as his replacement was “the right choice, a good choice. There’ll be a lot of continuity and consistency, and even growth,” he said.
“The department will grow even more. It’s in good hands. I feel real confident about that,” said Sproat.
“I was ready to retire,” said Sproat, who spent most of his time as a firefighter in the Kapa’a and Hanalei stations.
Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 224).