Navy decision leaves firefighters searching for new training facility
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Honolulu Fire Department is looking for a home for its firefighter academy, following the Navy's decision to not renew its lease in 2004 at the Thurston Fire Training Center near Honolulu International Airport, Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi said yesterday.
HFD will also have to move its Mokulele Fire Station, which shares the 5-acre site at Nimitz Highway and Valkenburgh Street.
The department has leased the site from the Navy since 1979 for a one-time fee of $1. But in light of Sept. 11, the Navy said it would not be extending the lease because all of its property is considered critical in the war on terrorism. Federal firefighters will continue to train there.
Leonardi said the news came as a shock, but said it has forced the department to face the fact that it has outgrown the Thurston facility.
"We need a site where we can spread out," he said. "We're a modern fire department, we've upgraded everything and it's time to upgrade the training center." He said a new center would include areas for recruits to train in confined spaces, a rubble pile to conduct search and rescue, and other situations.
Leonardi said HFD would like to find a 10- to 20-acre site between Waipahu and downtown Honolulu. He said he and fellow firefighters understand the Navy's needs, and that there are no hard feelings because of the move. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said the facility will be used by the Federal Fire Department.
"With Fed Fire and its expanding role, it was decided that they're going to use the center as a training facility," said Campbell.
Campbell said no decision has been made on HFD's request for an extension of the lease, beyond June 1, 2004, until it finds a new home.
She said the Honolulu and federal fire departments have expanded operations, and when it comes to the Thurston facility, "there's just kind of no more room in the inn. And, it's our inn."