It was the day before Super Bowl XLVI when three members of the Hawaii Police Department’s Special Response Team went beyond the call of duty, putting their lives on the line to secure the area around a live grenade threatening the shutdown of a Hilo power plant that would have spurred islandwide rolling blackouts.
In the early afternoon of Feb. 4, a Hawaii Electric Light Co. employee maintaining the grounds of the company’s 24-hour Kanoelehua Hill generating station found an old, corroded grenade and notified his superiors who, after determining the situation was beyond their capabilities, asked police for assistance, said Hawaii Police Department Chief Harry Kubojiri. The device, a World War II era “pineapple” grenade, was near a building and missing both its pin and safety lever.
Patrol officers responded, secured the scene, and subsequently contacted the U.S. Army’s Honolulu-based Explosive Ordnance Disposal team that was unavailable until Feb. 6, he said. With nothing able to be done, Kubojiri said HELCO was considering shutting down the plant for the safety of its employees — an action that could have had far-reaching impacts.
“That would have jeopardized … electric power to the entire island,” Kubojiri said, explaining his concern about blackouts affecting hospital operations, home medical equipment and wastewater treatment plants. “The concern wasn’t about the public accessing the area — it was that we needed to have power. … There was a lot at stake.”
Not to mention the Super Bowl matchup between the New York Giants and New England Patriots the next day — a comment Kubojiri made to those at the scene to help lighten the situation.
Though not equipped to handle an explosive ordnance, Kubojiri called upon members of his Special Response Team for help. A plan was developed to build a sandbag barricade around the device using the department’s Bearcat armored vehicle and a forklift outfitted with ballistics shield.
With the assistance of SRT members Administrative Assistant Chief Marshall Kanehailua, Lt. Thomas Shopay and Traffic Enforcement Unit Officer Paul Kim, all of whom volunteered, a 5-foot-tall U-shaped barricade was built around the grenade to protect the station and employees. Kanehailua was the forklift operator, Shopay his eyes and Kim another set of eyes and a lookout. Kubojiri also participated, but did not want credit.
“That’s what we do, and that’s the personality of our tactical team. We live for this. We are honored to do this in our line of work,” said Shopay.
Throughout the incident, power was never interrupted, said HELCO administrative manager and incident commander Rhea Lee, who commended the officers’ work constructing the barricade throughout the night. The scene was turned over to HELCO the next morning until the EOD team arrived several days later, retrieved the device, and took it to the Pohakuloa Training Area for disposal.
Kubojiri said the grenade was live and exploded by the team on Feb. 6. The U.S. Army in Honolulu did not respond for further information as of press time Friday.
For the officers’ display of selflessness for the greater good and their gallantry, Kanehailua, Shopay and Kim were awarded with the Silver Medal of Valor during a ceremony held Thursday in Hilo. The medal, which only a handful of Big Island officers have been awarded, is presented to officers cited for courage and bravery in performance of their duty with marked distinction, said Kubojiri, who nominated the three.
“I know none of them wanted this recognition, none of them wants to draw attention to themselves, but not one of them hesitated or questioned anything — they were ready and willing with no hesitation,” Kubojiri explained, noting all officers put their lives on the line each day and deserve recognition.
Kanehailua, who’s been with the department since 1990, said he was doing his job and everyone in the department deserves the same recognition. Kim was unable to be reached for comment.
“If you ask any police officer, he will say ‘it’s just their job,’ but it’s always nice to know you’re appreciated,” said Shopay of the recognition.