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Silva to depart HFD after 7 years at helm

The retiring chief plans to get more involved in his church

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 1:32 a.m. HST, Nov 3, 2012

Honolulu Fire Chief Kenneth Silva is ending his 31-year career of saving lives to begin one of saving souls.

The 52-year-old said he's already in "the helping business," and plans to take on a greater role in his church, possibly even becoming a pastor with New Hope Christian Fellowship, where he has a close relationship with founding pastor Wayne Cordeiro.

After nearly seven years as fire chief, Silva said he announced his retirement Friday, before the mayoral election, because he did not want people to speculate he was leaving due to a new mayor taking office Jan. 2. Silva will retire Dec. 31.

On Jan. 18, 2006, Silva became the second Hono­lulu fire chief to be appointed by the Hono­lulu Fire Commission, which he says "took the politics out" of the process. Prior to Silva's predecessor, Attilio Leonardi, the mayor had appointed Hono­lulu's fire chief.

Silva said he is retiring now because he's maxed out his pension benefits after 31 years with HFD, and to answer the question, "What is it that I want to dedicate the rest of my life to?"

During Silva's tenure as chief, and following years of his testimony before lawmakers, an Oahu ban on most consumer fireworks became law, first taking effect for the 2011 Fourth of July holiday.

Under Silva the department got its first fire engines with compressed-air foam fire-suppression systems and developed an all-hazards incident management team.

Silva said he will leave with "feel-good memories" of relationships with fellow firefighters and recollections of helping people in need.

But it is the 1999 Sacred Falls rockfall tragedy — which left eight dead and dozens injured, and in which he served as incident commander — that he cannot forget.

"That was the largest mass casualty incident in our department's history," he said. "Being able to mitigate that incident, to this day, it sticks in my mind."

The Honolulu Fire Commission will work with the city Human Resources Department to begin the process of selecting the next fire chief.

Silva said he would like to see the department continue to maintain its accreditation and to continue HFD's training and certification program for its personnel.

His departure has nothing to do with a city Ethics Commission investigation into the 2010 award of a $175,000 consultant contract to Emergency Services Consulting International that recommended the merger of the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services, said department spokes­man Terry Seelig.

Silva, who serves on the board of directors of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, supports a merger. "I believe that fire-based EMS is what's best for our community," he said.

The consultant that was awarded the contract is the for-profit arm of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Seelig said.

Allegations that Silva received gifts of travel as a member of the association's board are inaccurate, said Seelig. They were reimbursements of money spent to attend business meetings, he said.

<t$>Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto said the city will continue its investigation regardless of Silva's retirement but could not discuss the details.

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