Hawaii County Fire Department’s request to add an ambulance at Makalei Fire Station was denied this year because of the state’s fiscal situation, Fire Chief Darren Rosario said.
Still, Rosario said he plans to continue to make the request annually to the state Department of Health’s Emergency Medical Services & Injury Prevention System Branch until it’s fulfilled. An ambulance can be added only if the Fire Department is able to secure state funding to support the program, he said.
“We were told the state doesn’t have the money in its budget to expand ambulance services here at this time,” he added.
Dr. Linda Rosen, Emergency Medical Services & Injury Prevention System Branch chief, said the state Department of Health received the Fire Department’s proposal for an additional unit in North Kona last fall, but the governor’s budget included no new ambulances. Besides getting such a request included in the governor’s budget, another way to get additional ambulances would be through a bill introduced by a legislator, she added.
Over the past five years, there has been only one ambulance added in the state. Last year, the growing community of Ewa Beach on Oahu received an ambulance. This was prompted in part by the closure of a hospital, Rosen said.
Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Kohala, said there’s still hope of getting funding, possibly through health-related bills now being considered by the Legislature. Once the House budget crosses over to the Senate, which may be as soon as next week, he plans to speak with the Ways and Means Committee chair to discuss numerous health priorities, including getting ambulance service at Makalei Fire Station.
Green spoke about challenges West Hawaii residents face as they are forced to travel long distances to receive medical attention. He also mentioned the golden hour between life and death. He thinks adding an ambulance is another option that could make a difference in saving lives.
Recognizing the costliness of such a request, Green said ambulance service can cost upwards of $600,000 to $700,000. Nevertheless, Green said he will engage in discussions with the Department of Health and fire departments around the state to find out where the greatest need for such service is. He’s also open to possibly introducing a bill.
Rosario said a community organization has offered to donate an ambulance, but the Hawaii County Fire Department must be able to maintain and staff it before accepting the vehicle. He said it costs roughly $500,000 annually to operate and maintain an ambulance, as well as pay for its six-member medic crew. He estimated a new ambulance costs approximately $210,000.
Makalei Fire Station currently does not have an ambulance. When a medical call comes in, the station’s fire truck and its emergency medical services-trained firefighters respond. They provide assistance until an ambulance from either the Kailua-Kona, Keauhou or Captain Cook Fire stations arrives on scene, Rosario said.
Because of the travel distance to the hospital and time returning back, the Fire Department thinks an ambulance at the Makalei station is needed. This would keep the availability of other stations’ ambulances in their districts, as well as allow for more coverage, Rosario said.
The Fire Department typically determines the need for ambulance service or more of it by call volume and how many times ambulances from outlying stations must travel to another district.
During last fiscal year — July 2011 to June 2012 — the Fire Department responded to 23,000 calls islandwide. The Kailua-Kona station had the most medical and rescue calls, 2,452 of its 3,613 total calls. The Keauhou station had 909 calls, of which 655 were medical-related, and the Captain Cook station had 677 calls, of which 506 were medical-related, Rosario said.
Besides the Makalei station, the Fire Department would also like to establish ambulance service for Hawaiian Paradise Park in Puna, an area that gets “a significant amount of medical calls.” Currently, Pahoa, Kawailani and Keaau station ambulances have been helping handle these calls. The Fire Department has requested ambulance service here from the state for several years, but to no avail, Rosario said. He added that the branch is tasked with looking at all requests and this may mean there are other areas in the state with a greater need.
Asked what the public can do to help, Rosario encouraged residents to contact their state lawmakers and urge them to support and help secure funding for the Fire Department’s requests.
West Hawaii Reps. Denny Coffman, Cindy Evans and Nicole Lowen, as well as Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Waimea, Hamakua, North Hilo, did not return messages seeking comment, as of press time.