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Firefighter dies of injuries from training exercise


    Clifford Rigsbee

A 63-year-old firefighter and Tinman Triathlon athlete died Thursday from injuries he sustained during a rescue watercraft training exercise earlier this week near Diamond Head.

Firefighter Clifford Rigsbee, who was a 21-year veteran with the Honolulu Fire Department, was on a sled being towed by a watercraft operated by another member of Engine Company 7 around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday. The rescue watercraft training exercise was being conducted at the surf break known as “Suicides.”

The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to Fire Chief Manuel Neves.

Neves said the operator of the personal watercraft looked back and saw Rigsbee floating unconscious in the ocean.

He was rescued and brought to shore by fellow firefighters, including an off-duty fire fighter. The operator of the watercraft also was treated at a hospital and released.

Rigsbee was treated by firefighters, Ocean Safety personnel and paramedics and then taken to Straub Medical Center in critical condition where he died late Thursday night.

Rigsbee joined the fire department in July 1995 and was promoted to Fire Fighter 3 in October 2004.

“Cliff was also a well-known and nationally-ranked triathlete who had won several Tinman Triathlon competitions,” Neves said.

While off duty in October 2012, he rescued an injured hiker on the Koko Crater Trail and carried her down from the top of the trail to waiting fire rescue personnel and paramedics, Neves said. Rigsbee received an HFD Certificate of Commendation for his actions.

Funeral services are pending.

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  • Way too much information related to the accident is missing. As in how was the watercraft operator injured?

    So sorry to hear of the Firefighter’s passing way too young. Thank you for your service Firefighter Clifford Rigsbee.

  • “was on a sled being towed by a watercraft “>>> In what scenario would a civilian firefighter be involved in anything involving a water sled?

    • Ocean Safety(life guards) work 9am to 5pm……when there is an emergency water situation during the hours that OS is not on duty the fire department is called…..however there are many instances in which OS personnel hang around longer than their scheduled work-shift if ocean conditions are deemed to be dangerous for the public and for that we should be thankful.

    • When Ocean Safety goes home after sunset or early morning before they start their shift. That is very reasonable scenarios…maybe you should change your comment name.

  • Sounds like he truly lived up to HFD’s motto of “Pride, Service, Dedication.” His selfless acts of heroism are a testament to that. My condolences to his family, friends, and fellow firefighters. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Our community as a whole has suffered by this loss.

  • For the “UN-INFORMED” besides fire-fighting, assisting EMS with medical emergencies, inspections, investigating activated fire alarms, locating and helping “lost hikers, injured hikers, missing hikers etc.” out of their predicament, TRAINING, there are also situations of “swimmer(s) in distress, lost swimmer/surfer, missing diver(s), boater(s) in distress, over-turned boater etc.” so believe it or not there IS instances when firefighters DO NEED the use of such watercraft as a “jet-ski with attached sled” to assist in the event any person(s) should require assistance of FIREFIGHTERS to possibly SAVE their life.
    Will the Fire Chief issue a statement regarding the FACTS of what happened? I believe he will once he HAS all the FACTS of what occurred.

    • For us here on Molokai, there are no lifeguards at any beach at any time. So the MFD will be doing all the rescues along the coast. People finally have a chance to see what these men go through. Just like the FDNY running into the buildings, these men jump into the danger.

  • My heart dropped hearing of Firefighter Rigsbee’s passing. Our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones, and to the HFD Ohana during this sad time. Lets not forget that firefighters are very often the “first responders” in many emergencies here in our aina. God Bless them all for the services they perform.

  • Terrible tragedy. I saw on the news him being described as “an amazing athlete” and a longtime triathlete. My first thought was, “Yeah, but what kind of experience did he have on a PWC, specifically in surf impact zones, particularly in solid swell conditions? Advanced Ocean/Surf knowledge takes years to master if ever, not something that can be learned quickly or from an instruction manual. He obviously was as strong ocean swimmer, but operating heavy equipment in high surf … that’s a whole ‘nother ball a wax. The Ocean Safety guys need to be the resource for ocean rescue, not the Fire Dept. This is a big loss for his familiy, HFD, and the public. Mahalo for your dedicated service Mr. Rigsbee

  • Firefighter are the true heroes. Unlike HPD, the firefighters don’t torment the public with citations they would never give themselves. Nor do they drive drunk and have their buddies cover up for them. And I’ve never seen a firefighter with a HPD gut.

    Firefighters are the REAL heroes!

      • Wow! Cellodad, you’ve done eight triathlons? Gee, that’s terrific! This old buck just did a half marathon and was aiming for the whole works when that dream was abruptly curtailed. Congratulations and hope you’ll do more of them.

  • Interesting, Federal Fire Fire fighters are required to retired at age 57, if they stay on later than that, it is in an administrative or command capacity, leading, mentoring, and training instead of actively engaging in hazardous duty for their own safety and the safety of fellow fire fighters, as well as the public. Perhaps, HPD should review their policy regarding same to avoid future tragic accidents of this sort.

    • Are you retired?….if so, was it on your own terms or were you forced(age 57) to retire? This accident could have happened to a 21 year old. many POLITICIANS love to jump on the band wagon whenever a tragedy happens(see truck bed accidents) its funny how NO ONE has mentioned the many times a year that the fire dept. personnel train with these same equipment and NO ONE ever says it’s a tragedy waiting to happen. The Navy Blue Angels had a crash few weeks ago. Do they STOP flying?…….A construction worker fell to his death last year, do they STOP construction?……It doesn’t take away from the lost that his family, friends and the HFD are experiencing right now but don’t Monday morning QB this tragic situation.

    • HFD members go thru rigorous physical testing. At his age, he was probably required an annual test. They also have medical physical exams annually. The physical testing is job related and is tough. The older you get, the smarter you get. Just got to pace yourself and get it done. Rigs did not have the minimum years to retire. Im pretty sure he would go when he met the minimum. His choice, we lost a good Firefighter.

  • Very sad. Now what the hell happened out there?
    An accident? Seems kind of strange. Did they wreck? Get ponded by a wave?
    Reference to a medical condition. What’s up with all the secrecy?

  • GOD must’ve needed a good Firefighter 3 up there … what’s that old saying “the good die young” … I’m still trying to figure out why … RIP and thank you for your service

    • I hear you but it really doesn’t matter why or how.We need to just deal with it as a HFD family and give his family the space they need. Aloha!

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