Three firefighters

Four Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) companies and about 20 firefighters converged on Sakamaki Hall at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa on the morning of Sunday, February 21. The firefighters rushed up the stairs of the four-story structure, deployed their hoses and released a torrent of water. They weren’t responding to an actual fire but were instead training for the real thing. A partnership between HFD and the UH Mānoa Office of Operations and Facilities Fire Safety Program made it all possible.

“This is about giving back to the community and it is a positive for everyone involved,” said Blake Araki, director of campus operations and facilities. “It gives the fire companies in our community an opportunity to get familiar with our campus and test our facilities while they sharpen their life-saving skills.”

Water shooting out of Sakamaki Hall during firefighter training

The fire department has held five high-rise training exercises on campus since April 2020. The simulations include taking hold of the elevators, hooking up into building standpipes in the stairwells and making hose stretches to fire floors where firefighters practice hose handling and water deployment. Firefighters at the truck practice their pumping skills, making sure the water pressures that they’re giving the firefighters in the building are appropriate.

“It offers a lot of opportunities to get better at what we do,” said HFD Fire Capt. Ocean Kaowili. “This is a time to address it where we fall short. This is where we skin our knees, this is where we scrape our elbows, so that when it’s the real thing, we don’t make those mistakes. This is the practice.”

The exercises also provide fire captains a chance to practice their command skills, management of a high rise incident and coordination with other fire companies. It is the type of training they will need to fight fires such as the deadly Marco Polo condominium building fire in 2017, just a mile away from the Mānoa campus.

Normally, to get this type of training in an actual building, HFD has to wait for a structure that is about to be demolished. Kaowili said the partnership with UH Mānoa now allows for regular high rise training exercises.

“They have been fantastic,” said Kaowili about UH Mānoa facilities, specifically the Fire Safety Program team. “We are really grateful to be able to work with them.”

4 people
From left: UH Mānoa Fire Alarm Specialist Gary Tsukida, UH Mānoa Fire Safety Specialist Marvin Sagayaga, HFD Captain Kaowili and UH Manoa Fire Safety Officer Mike Merrell. All four are considered essential personnel and have received their COVID-19 vaccinations