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Navy Region Hawaii's federal fire department renders mutual aid to Oahu communities

28 July 2022

From Grady Fontana, Naval Medical Forces Pacific

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) presence in Hawaii has deep historical roots and adds to the overall security of the state and the nation. Hawaii’s ideal location in the Pacific hosts a strategic headquarters for military activities in the Asia-Pacific region.
At the same time, this presence in Hawaii has had a significant positive impact on the local economy, jobs and business opportunities.

These reasons punctuate why the military community continues to have strong support among the residents of Hawaii, and local government organizations. The relationship is more than an association between federal and state—it’s a partnership.

During the COVID-19 Omicron surge, in late December 2021, more than 200 Oahu first responders were out of work, either because they were infected with COVID-19, or they were in COVID-19 quarantine protocol, according to Douglas Asano, assistant fire chief, Federal Fire Department Hawaii. Thereby, reducing the capacity of the Oahu 911 EMS system.

As a partner in the community, Navy Region Hawaii’s FFD aided Oahu first responders in providing emergency medical services during the Omicron surge that placed a strain on City and County EMS resources.

These first responders included Honolulu paramedics and emergency medical technicians, which were a vital part of the Oahu EMS system.

During the 2021 holidays (Dec-Jan), which was the peak of the surge, the Omicron case count swelled to 5,659 a day, with the demand for emergency ambulances resources greatly increased. The community EMS system staffing shortage led to Honolulu EMS 911 ambulances being temporary shut down across the island.

Since approximately 10% of the Honolulu EMS workforce was out with COVID-19 infections, they used back-up ambulance providers and turned to their mutual aid partner— Navy Region Hawaii’s FFD EMS.

As a result, NRH FFD received a significant increase in mutual aid requested calls. During the period, FFD EMS units responded to 55 mutual aid calls from the city and county of Honolulu with seven of them being patients of critical cardiopulmonary cardiac arrest.

“Our FFD EMS units were handling higher than expected mutual aid request from Honolulu EMS during that time, and we were glad that Federal Fire Department Hawaii was able to assist the community,” said Asano. “Our ethos in the EMS Division is ‘Find a Way!’ and we did. No FFD EMS ambulances were closed during the Omicron surge and we increased our support to neighboring communities by four times the normal call volume of mutual aid assistance calls during those concerning two months.”

FFD was there to support the state and the communities of Oahu. In some of those critical calls, FFD-EMS was able to save lives.

“Together with our state and city partners we were able to manage this pandemic surge crisis and truly make a difference in lives,” said Asano. “I’m extremely proud of our EMS providers and acknowledge that their service often comes at the cost of their own physical well-being, mental health, and precious time with family and loved ones. They embody the best our fire department has to offer and I am proud of each one of them for the service they provide.”

FFD is primarily responsible for protecting the lives and property of U.S. service members and their families, as well as DoD civilians and contractor employees working on DoD installations in Oahu.

On the island of Oahu, there are 10 major military installations: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Tripler Army Medical Center, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station-Pacific, Marine Corps Base Hawaii-Kaneohe Bay, Naval Magazine-West Loch, Helemano Military Reservation, Wheeler Army Airfield, Schofield Barracks, Marine Corps Base Hawaii-Camp Smith, and Fort Shafter. Together, about 110,000 DoD military beneficiaries are based on the island of Oahu.

According to Asano, the capacity of FFD Hawaii’s system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure in a complex environment where disturbances are inevitable, was the true test of their system’s resiliency. “Its ability to absorb this shock and cope with it, shows how increasingly important it is here on our island community to have partnerships,” said Asano.

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