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Honolulu firefighter died in diving accident

  • Jeffrey Barbieto

A 41-year-old man who drowned while diving for a moi fish farm off Pearl Harbor on Tuesday was a waterman, businessman and rescue company firefighter with the Honolulu Fire Department.

The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office identified him as Jeffrey Barbieto of Kaneohe. An autopsy determined he drowned.

"One of the best, fearless," said friend Bryan Amona of Kailua. "He was an adrenaline junky. Risky stuff, he ate it up."

He said Barbieto was a firefighter with the Honolulu Fire Department for more than 20 years.

Honolulu fire Capt. Terry Seelig confirmed Barbieto was a firefighter assigned to Rescue 2 company in Mililani Mauka.

Amona said Barbieto preferred working for the rescue company, making daring rescues such as rappelling down a line dropped from a helicopter, to fighting fires. In 2000, Barbieto was commended by the Fire Department for jumping from a helicopter into the ocean to rescue two divers from hazardous surf. 

Besides being a firefighter and diving for Hukilau Foods — the company he was working for on Tuesday, Barbieto also started a company with Amona called Ku’au Rescue to train professionals in surface water rescue techniques.

"He was a lifeguard’s lifeguard, a waterman’s waterman," Amona said. "He was always on the move." 

Barbieto also started a surf contest that lasted several years bringing together first responders and rescue personnel at Pyramid Rock. Amona and Barbieto recently began talking about reviving that contest.

Amona met Barbieto at Pyramid Rock on Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe about 17 years ago while Barbieto was running the base’s lifeguard program. Barbieto encouraged him to start a volunteer lifeguard program that still exists today, Amona said.

About five years ago, Barbieto left the lifeguard job to work at Hukilau’s moi farm, taking care of fish cages under about 120 of water, Amona said.

On Tuesday, Barbieto became unresponsive about 2:30 p.m. while diving for the company, the Coast Guard said.

Barbieto was about 2 miles off shore and was taken to Pali Momi Medical Center where he died. The Coast Guard said it is investigating.

Hukilau Foods could not be reached for a comment tonight.

Barbieto is survived by his wife, two teen sons, one of whom is graduating from Saint Louis School on Saturday, and other family members.

"He was just a mentor," Amona said. "He wanted to teach people. He wanted to share his knowledge. He was all about the water."

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