Makiki firefighters arrived first at a burning apartment building, located across the street from the fire station, in four minutes after the first 911 call at 2:15 a.m. Sunday, Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig said.
But residents of the Makikian, two condominium buildings at 1190 Wilder Ave., and other area residents say the Makiki company did not arrive until 10 to 18 minutes later, and some say a fire company from another station arrived before the Makiki unit did.
Joshua Kay, who lives in the Wilder at Piikoi, directly across from the burning building, said he heard yelling, smelled smoke and ran out on his lanai to see "thick black smoke pouring down Piikoi."
From his vantage point on the 21st floor, Kay said he saw the first engine coming up Piikoi and turning left on Wilder and hooking up to a hydrant, the first at the scene.
Residents said they called the Fire Department at 2:15 a.m. while others were pounding on the fire station door, to no avail, alleging firefighters took anywhere from 10 to 18 minutes.
Seelig acknowledged residents "truly felt it was 18 minutes," but the Fire Department records clearly show the first engine was from Makiki and arrived at 2:19 a.m., and accessed the fire hydrant on Piikoi. Another fire engine hooked up to the Wilder hydrant closer at the back or Ewa side of the building, he said.
Seelig said the Makiki crew was asleep in the dorm when the fire call came in. It takes two minutes for firefighters to get into protective gear and into the truck.
In response to the open criticism by several residents, the Fire Department held a news conference to defend its response time to the fire that gutted two condominium units, with minor damage to two others. The fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damage and left five people homeless. The fire was caused by a malfunction in a bedroom electrical outlet.
Seelig emphasized the preferred method of reporting a fire is by calling 911 to ensure fire dispatch can send multiple units to the scene if necessary.
As an alternative, he said, an emergency alarm is located at each fire station.