Makalei, Puna ambulance funding advances

The state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee approved a measure Thursday to fund two new ambulances on the Big Island.


The state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee approved a measure Thursday to fund two new ambulances on the Big Island.

Senate Bill 2348 moved out of the committee without “any fuss or discussion,” Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, said. The bill would authorize the ambulance service at the Makalei Fire Station in North Kona, as well as one in Puna. “It’s a big deal to both of our districts.”

Next comes getting the state House to concur, something bill sponsor Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u, said he hopes will happen.

“This is one of my top three priorities in the health committee,” Green said. “I think we have a real shot of getting resources. Our chances are pretty good this year.”

That the committee had already approved the measure Thursday was a good sign, Green added.

To get a new ambulance, the Fire Department needed either the governor to include it on his budget or for the Legislature to authorize it. Last year, a Health Department official said the governor had only authorized one new ambulance in the preceding five years, for Ewa Beach on Oahu.

Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo, said the measure was a great bill, adding both areas are in need of additional ambulance services.

Fire Chief Darren Rosario did not respond to a phone message left Thursday. In his written testimony for a January hearing on the bill, Rosario laid out the reasons supporting adding two ambulances to his department’s fleet.

In North Kona, medics at the Kailua Fire Station on Palani Road and the Keauhou Fire Station take 17 percent of the EMS calls for the island. The Makalei Station is 8 miles from the Kailua station, 15 miles from the Keauhou station and 27 miles from the Waikoloa Fire Station, which also responds to medical calls in North Kona. Under even the best circumstances, Rosario wrote, medics from Kailua and Keauhou will take eight to 15 minutes to get to an emergency call in North Kona. If both of those units are busy, the response time from Waikoloa is about 25 to 30 minutes.

“To compound this, the approximate transport time from North Kona to Kona Community Hospital is 25 to 30 minutes,” he wrote. “Given the current circumstances, the outcomes of patients who have an injury or illness in which definitive treatment is time sensitive, the odds are stacked against them in North Kona.”


The growing population and subsequent increase in medical emergencies in Puna has an impact on that district, as well as Hilo, Rosario said, because when Puna’s ambulances are busy, ambulances are called in from Hilo. Calls to 911 from Puna make up more than 27 percent of all such calls in the county, he said.

“To compound this, the round trip time from response to back in quarters on a patient transport is approximately two hours,” he said. “It is become common for Medics 5 and 10 to have 10 or more transports in a 24-hour shift. The resulting simple math means our personnel can essentially be on the road for nearly 24 consecutive hours. As a result the potential for fatigue, errors in judgment, driving and overall safety are of great concern for our personnel.”

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