Agencies vie for county funds

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Fire Department on Monday asked for new staff members and better equipment for the next fiscal year.

The department’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget is 8.14 percent more than last year, and $1.6 million of the $1.8 million increase would go to salaries and benefits.

Fire Chief Robert Westerman said the increase reflects an adjustment for the county to increase its share of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant from 50 to 75 percent.

The grant is in its third of four years and has saved the county $1.5 million in salaries, he said.

The fire department responded to more than 5,033 calls for assistance in 2011, a 9 percent increase over the previous year. There were 237 fire calls, and 16 were investigated. The fires resulted in $5,755,000 in damage.  

Westerman said the department needs more support staff members. He also wants to increase the fleet of vehicles to include reserve and training trucks.

A 36 percent training increase of $93,000 over 2012 is to “catch up” with required certifications and mandatory training.

Westerman said the priority this year is to regain a 90 percent training and readiness status required for accreditation standards.

Deputy Fire Chief John Blalock said the department continues to apply for state and federal grants. Grant funds have totaled $6.58 million over five years.

The chiefs thanked the council for the new Kai‘kea Fire Station that is manned with SAFER staffing, and said it means that all homes on Kaua‘i are within five miles of an active station, which drives down insurance costs for businesses and residents.

The new station takes pressure off the busiest stations of Lihu‘e and Kapa‘a. The fire department’s goal, Westerman said, is to have four firefighters for every shift, a ratio shown to outperform two-man and three-man teams by several minutes.

Within the proposed budget, only 10 percent goes to operations. About 12 percent goes to training, 8 percent to utilities, 27 percent to equipment and leases and about 2 percent for bills ranging from gas and oil to vehicle repairs and oxygen tanks.

With 237 fire-related calls last year, and 16 investigated fire incidents, Westerman said fire and rescue events make up less than 1 percent of daily work, but it is the most costly in terms of training, equipment and man hours.

KFD has two open firefighter positions currently funded by FEMA. Westerman said it is cost-prohibitive to run a training academy for two recruits and will do so at year’s end, after retirements make space for about five recruits.

Despite the overtime hours the operations budget came in at more than $50,000 under budget, Westerman said.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro said that in his six years, the council has not cut corners on essential needs of the KFD  budget.

The FY 2013 budget requests include funds for two firefighters, an administrative clerk and two assistant chiefs to lead operations and administration.

The Ocean Safety Bureau is requesting two on-call lifeguard positions to assist during times when full-time lifeguards are out injured, sick or on vacation. They also want a senior clerk position that is not in this budget.

Westerman said injuries are mostly rescue-related involving Jet Ski responses or rescue boards.

Other concerns include firefighter health. Westerman said firefighters are second only to military personnel as far as the most stressful profession.

“The obvious factor is a dangerous work environment,” he said.

The No. 1 killer of firefighters is heart attack. He said two KFD personnel suffered heart attacks in the past two years.

The annual physical budget is part of helping identify health issues before they become a problem for the firefighters.

Westerman said the recent move to a renovated headquarters will improve response time with the addition of a backup Emergency Operations Center.

The planned alternative dispatch center is expected to open in six months with additional communication equipment and furnishings included in the budget request.

The lifeguards are requesting two new beach trucks to replace two that are ready to go out of service. They hope to offset some of the costs with grant requests, Blalock said.

KFD hopes to have its own personnel to become certified diving trainers to be able to maintain diver skills without having to bring in trainers or send them off island.

Other work is to ensure department personnel update CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and that an AED (automated external defibrillator) is in every vehicle.

Fire Prevention Bureau Captain Daryl Date said the KPD is nearing its goal of performing a fire safety inspection of all businesses,  apartments and condominiums on Kaua‘i.

He said they are also working improving fee collection systems including fireworks and temporary structures.

“Education is our biggest challenge,” Date said. “We must continue to find ways to engage the community so that we can continue to educate them about the hazards.”

The drowning rates were down from a record high 15 in 2008 to 14 in 2009, nine in 2010 and 13 in 2011. KFD attributed this to many partnerships, and requested funding for hazard warning literature in hotels and businesses, along with an airport video.

The council asked about the possibility of charging fuel costs to victims rescued by the Air 1 county rescue helicopter. Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura requested an annual flight operations summary of all rescues and other use.

Westerman said a Mainland example shows that businesses and resorts report a loss of tourism when fees are assessed to pay for emergency flight operations.

The total cost of Air 1 is less than budgeted because the anticipated $100,000 parts and maintenance costs are lower for the new helicopter still under warranty. The lease payments are $209,000 per year, the pilot contract is $360,000, and fuel cost $75,000.

It is still cheaper than the option of hiring out to a private firm, he said. KFD also charges the police department $450 per hour to rent the helicopter.

Rescue expert Francisco Garcia said before Air 1, the expected response time for outside private flights was up to four hours.

With Air 1, the response time is an average 16 minutes, he added, and much of that time is confirmation of the incident.


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