Kaua‘i girl becomes highest-ranking firefighter in Hawai‘i

Janis Kimata-Lopez became the highest-ranking female firefighter in the State of Hawai‘i Thursday at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana.

Kimata-Lopez was promoted to the rank of Assistant Chief of Operations of the Barking Sands Fire Department during a ceremony at the fire department located at the PMRF in Mana.

Manuel P. Neves, Fire Chief of the Barking Sands Fire Department, said in the 161-year history of the fire service in Hawai‘i, only one other woman has attained this rank.

“She is very dedicated to the profession and improving herself and the department,” Neves said. “You hear of people giving 110 percent? She gives 120.”

Kimata-Lopez becomes the first Chief Officer for the Barking Sands Fire Department since its origin in 1966, states a release from PMRF.

She has a fierce loyalty to her family and an unmatched dedication to her work, attributing her family as the reason for her career success.

“When I had my two kids, it motivated me to do better,” Kimata-Lopez said in the release. “My kids saw me doing a lot of work and studying. I wanted to show them the example that we will always be learning.”

Her start with firefighting came after the winds of Hurricane ‘Iniki blew away her job at a resort in 1992.

“I love helping people,” Kimata-Lopez said. “I originally wanted to be a nurse, but it made me sad to see people pass away. I liked the action of firefighting and being involved in the emergency as it happens.”

Kimata-Lopez has volunteered as a presenter at Waimea High School’s career day for the past six years, impacting numerous students who may not have considered a career in the fire service.

She also volunteered as a mentor to high school seniors, helping them learn first-hand, some of the skills, equipment and living conditions required to become a firefighter.

“A lot of women think they cannot reach this level,” she said. “The more I studied about firefighting, the more I wanted to do it. I think women have a lot of traits which are good for medical services. We have an innate attribute to care. I usually hear from the girls, ‘I’m too small. I’m just a girl.’ Now, when I go to career days, I can really motivate the girls.”

She started her career at the end of a hose line with a fire staring her in the face.

With her promotion, Kimata-Lopez is responsible for overseeing all firefighting efforts at PMRF and to mitigate the risk associated with the daily threat of fires, medical emergencies, rescues and other hazards.

“She is very dedicated to the profession and is always improving herself and the department,” Neves said. “We’re committed to having a diverse workforce and having Janis in a leadership position will help achieve that.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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