Monday, February 15, 2010


ALL ABOARD: Almost every parent has said it to their kids at one time or another when trying to protect the implements they use for work- “this is not a toy- it’s a tool. Leave it alone. If you play with it you’ll break it and I won’t have it when I need it.”

Someone should have said that to the county council and other department heads last Wednesday when daddy told the family they was going to have to buy a helicopter to take care of us all and of course everyone wanted to use it to fart around in.

Papa Bob- Fire Chief Bob Westerman- puts up with a lot. Generally he’s one of the only people in county government that comes before the council prepared- he knows his business, answers all questions professionally and completely in a transparent open and honest manner.

On Kaua`i this is unheard of behavior.

So after Bob made the case for the fact that we seemingly need this tool for firefighting and search and rescue- to replace the current system of hiring private companies on an “as needed” standby basis- it was time for the kids to think of all the ways they could use it, all of which would for all intent and purpose make its use for emergencies impossible.

The session was pretty well described in the local newspaper- where the two articles need a search and rescue of their own this morning since they’ve apparently disappeared from the web site- with the council suggesting that everyone from the planning and pubic works departments could use it for things like mapping and inspections and Police Chief Perry saying he wants to go joy riding to look for pakalolo based on a “hot tip” or to harass protesters if the Superferry returns.

The editorial in the paper, while mainly criticizing the proposed purchase based on the expense and the timing of the appropriation- for a budget that is guaranteed to come up way short this year- did finally refer to the main bugaboo, saying:

And if county officials are selling this to us as a safety necessity, the helicopter must be reserved for such use in a centralized location. If a fire breaks out or some other emergency situation arises, we should have our chopper and pilot ready to go at a moment’s notice.

We shouldn’t have to first track down where the bird is — whether it’s the police using it for a green harvest mission, the film commission using it to give some producer a tour or the planning department checking for grubbing violations — and then re-route it, refuel it, reload it and embark on the emergency task at hand. This could present a dangerous situation that flies in the face of county officials who have touted improved reliability and response times if we had our own chopper.

You’d have thought the council would have thought of this but it was not even a consideration. Instead it was “ooo- we could use it for this” and “ooo we could use it for that”. At one point someone even mentioned using it to fly county people to Honolulu for meetings, attempting to use the increased demand from the kids who wanted to play with it to justify the expense.

As it turns out the FAA has been on our ass for years for relying on contracting with local tour helicopter owners to do our search and rescue making training impossible. But despite the fact that it was reported a couple of years back that local fire and police departments across the country were being given helicopters they didn’t even need or want through homeland security grants, we missed that boat and now can’t seems to line up a grant... at best we’re looking for a grant for the first year’s payment.

However the main thing that everyone is failing to see is that, as happens many times due to living on an island with a small population, we’re trapped from the start by our economy of scale and, like most jurisdictions we’re going to need at least two helicopters to do the job.

Helicopters need maintenance- and lot of it. Not just to fix it when it needs repair but for scheduled maintenance and even scheduled engine rebuilds. That means times when it cannot be used... and of course fires and people who need rescue don’t wait until it’s convenient.

In other places neighboring communities can back each other up during down time, something impossible to do here where we’re faced with one not being enough but two being way too much.

According to Aviation

The inspection, maintenance, and overhaul of aircraft are never-ending endeavors that include many people and teams of people to accomplish and maintain...

Aircraft maintenance checks should be performed periodically after a certain amount of flying time or length of time from the last check. They are broken down into four periodic maintenance checks by frequency and thoroughness of check. The more routine and frequent test should be done about every month but can vary according to the cycle of takeoffs and landings or the length of time from the last check. It is usually performed overnight at an airport gate. The next check is done roughly about every three months. It also can vary according to flying cycle or time from last check. This check is normally conducted at an airport gate. The next periodic maintenance check is more thorough and is performed in a hanger. It is done every twelve to eighteen months depending on the aircraft type and flying cycle frequency as well as other factors that may require the check sooner.

You get the idea.

Even if it were for the exclusive use of the fire department- and possibly related civil defense disaster services- we’d still have to have those individual contractors we have now standing by for when the chopper is unavailable.

If you really want a good laugh check out the tape of last Wednesday’s meeting for some of the “suggestions” from the council.

It’s amazing the way daddy Westerman puts up with these bozos. It was probably all he could do to refrain from reminding the boys to keep their grubby paws off his tool.

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