26 rescues in 6 mos. for county chopper

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i’s first county-owned helicopter, Kalele Pono, has performed dozens of missions its first six months of operation.

The cherry-red MD 530F on Feb. 10 received its blessing in front of the historic county building in Lihu‘e.

As of July 31, Kalele Pono has flown in 26 Kaua‘i Fire Department rescue missions, in addition to multi-day events, nine missions for the Kaua‘i Police Department, and two missions for other agencies — the Water Department and Public Works, according to KFD Chief Robert Westerman.

Some of the advantages of having a county-owned helicopter rather than a contracted helicopter include less liability, faster response time and more opportunities for training, Westerman has said on several occasions.

Without taking into account the helicopter’s initial training period, Kalele Pono has flown 11.2 hours for training operations since its blessing, according to Westerman.

The private company previously contracted to perform most of the rescue operations has an almost-identical helicopter, but it doesn’t increase victims’ chances of survival, he said. The two “main reasons” are the ability to respond faster in most cases and to train personnel in hazardous operations prior to performing in an actual event, Westerman said.

“Each of the rescues we have had are a result of these factors, and more in one fashion or another,” Westerman said. “Whether we are flying a head injury off the cliffs in Hanakapi‘ai to get them to the hospital in the golden hour or searching for a missing scuba diver floating away in rough seas, they are all alive because of the helicopter operations.”

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