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Leader appointed for Maui fire, ocean safety merge

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WAILUKU, Hawaii >> A 27-year-veteran of firefighting is being tasked with facilitating a merger between the Maui Fire Department and the county’s Division of Ocean Safety.

Paia Fire Capt. Colin Yamamoto has been appointed to be the fire department’s first battalion chief of ocean safety.

The merger was approved in the 2012 general election. There is no deadline set for the merger, but Maui Fire Chief Jeff Murray expects things to be in place by July 2015.

Ocean safety officials have long lobbied to transfer their division from the county Department of Parks and Recreation to an agency more focused on public safety.

Yamamoto said in an email that being stationed along Maui’s north shore has allowed him to work with ocean safety lifeguards. "I have an understanding of their current operations," he wrote.

His promotion is effective Saturday. Yamamoto will oversee more than 50 ocean safety officials and work with other fire chiefs to coordinate ocean rescues.

The Wailuku resident joined the fire department in 1987 and was promoted to captain in 2002.

Murray told the Maui News that Yamamoto’s appointment is a "first big step." Many other challenges remain to be ironed out, including collective-bargaining agreements, staffing disparities and training policies.

"It’s challenging because it’s new," Murray said.

Murray said he wants to make sure the merger is done properly and that the process isn’t rushed. "For me, I want to see things done right from the beginning, because if you’re spending time … (doing) damage control, it’s a waste of time," he said.

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