Fire chief ‘generally agrees’ with audit critiques

After a less than glowing county audit of the Hawaii Fire Department last month, Fire Chief Kazuo Todd hopes to turn the department around over the next several years.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council Committee on Parks and Recreation and Public Safety, Todd and County Auditor Tyler Benner presented the findings of the HFD audit and how the department can improve.

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In general, while Benner noted that HFD “employs a highly skilled staff,” its management structures are extremely out-of-date and unable to keep up with the constant need for maintenance and repairs throughout the department.

In particular, the audit highlighted a complete lack of any formal vehicle repair or replacement schedule, requiring the department to constantly make difficult choices between preventative maintenance for equipment on the verge of failure or restorative maintenance for equipment that already has failed.

Benner added that, for each of the shortcomings identified in the audit, Todd “generally agrees” with its conclusions.

The audit’s recommendations are twofold. First, Benner urged the department to develop a master plan that will allow the development of standards for each of its various issues, from maintenance to staffing to training and more.

The second recommendation is for the department to pursue accreditation by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, a nonprofit organization that identifies excellence in public safety agencies. Only 301 fire departments nationwide have CFAI accreditation.

A 2015-2020 HFD strategic plan did list CFAI accreditation as a department goal, but with no results.

Todd was enthusiastic during the meeting about pursuing accreditation, but pointed out some unfortunate realities.

“Without funding and a new staff position for managing the accreditation process, I couldn’t say how long this would take,” Todd said.

Todd added that the Hawaii Police Department is accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and maintains four staff positions that solely work on re-accreditation. He said the work required for CFAI accreditation and developing a master plan will require at least one new clerk condition, an accreditation manager position and about $150,000.

Benner and Todd said that CFAI accreditation does not make a fire department eligible for additional grant funding — Todd said accreditation is simply “the gold star sticker you get for doing a good job at school.” Nonetheless, Benner said pursuing and achieving accreditation will revitalize the department’s ailing systems.

“It’s the difference between ‘How do I stand this up with minimal effort?’ versus ‘How do I stand this up with excellence?’” Benner said.

Meanwhile, Todd said he is looking into acquiring low-cost database and ticketing systems to manage the department’s maintenance requirements, which would replace his current system of emailed PDF documents and homebrewed JavaScript programming.

However, Todd and Benner assured the committee that, despite the department’s woes, firefighters aren’t underequipped for fires. Benner said that, at worst, some firefighters have complained that some of the nozzles on some of the department’s trucks are not as efficient as they could be, but are otherwise capable of extinguishing a blaze.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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