UH degree: AS in fire science technology ’82 Honolulu
Roots: born into a military family; lived in California, Italy, Virginia and Massachusetts; graduated from Radford High School in Honolulu
Early job: lifeguard
Military service: Marine Corp Reserve 1969–80, Hawaiʻi Army National Guard 1980–97
Honors: Navy Civilian Superior Service Medal for relief efforts following fuel tank fires resulting from an earthquake in northern Japan
Legacy: introduced loco moco to the Sasebo Naval Base menu
Driving his dad’s car home from a date, Richard Rhode collided with a Federal Fire Department truck on Nimitz Highway that was en route to an emergency. The car was totaled but everyone was okay, and seeing the firefighters in action inspired Rhode’s career choice. He was later hired by the same fire department, starting his 28-year career at Pearl Harbor Hawaiʻi and serving abroad.
Rhode fondly recalls his five-year assignment as fire chief for the Navy base in Sasebo, Japan. He oversaw eight American bases in a heavily industrial area with the largest fuel and ammunition depot serving the Indian Ocean. Japanese neighbors invited him, his wife and daughter to a community Bon dance. “We looked a bit out of place wearing kimono and having blonde hair. But in all seriousness, the Japanese people were very polite, the food was fabulous, and the firefighters were some of the best I’ve ever seen—dedicated, creative and disciplined.” He uses social media to stay in touch.
In Sasebo, as at home, cooking is part of a firefighter’s duties. He convinced the local commissary to ship in Portuguese sausage, secret ingredient for his signature chili. His Japanese crew’s street corner chili and rice fundraiser sales became a popular annual tradition.
Retired in 2006, Rhode is lead instructor in the Honolulu Community College Fire Science and Emergency Response Program. Both sons are now federal firefighters. Eric, an assistant chief in Okinawa for four years, is station captain at Schofield Barracks. Jeremy is a firefighter at Wahiawā’s Naval Communications Station and lectures at Honolulu.