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Emergency crew: First responders ready for the worst

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARDVERTISER.COM

    Brice Kahalewai prepared and loaded new transformers onto trucks.

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARDVERTISER.COM

    HECO crews readied their vehicles Thursday to repair electrical outages.

Honolulu firefighters, police, paramedics and lifeguards, and Hawaiian Electric Co. repair crews are fueled up and ready to respond to life-threatening calls — and hope residents and tourists help by not doing something stupid.

That means: No surfing or hiking in tropical storm conditions; no using candles when the power goes out, which increases the risk of starting a fire; no moving downed power lines that could still be live; and calling 911 sparingly — not to ask for an ambulance ride to an emergency shelter, as has been requested in the past.

“They’re not just risking their own safety, but the safety of the first responders, as well,” said Shayne Enright, spokeswoman for both the city’s paramedics and lifeguards. “We’re asking people to make good decisions over the next couple of days.”

Paramedics and emergency medical services crews “do expect to be even busier than we normally are,” Enright said. “So try to keep those 911 lines open for emergencies.”

Because all city beach parks are closed for Hurricane Lane, lifeguards are no longer staffing lifeguard towers. Instead, they’re driving trucks and towing personal watercraft around Oahu’s shorelines looking for people in distress.

“Now is not the time to go surfing or hiking,” said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Scot Seguirant. “About 85 percent of our calls are the result of carelessness and are preventable. So use your best judgment.”

From mudslides to blown roofs to surf rescues, Seguirant said, “We’re concerned about winds. We’re concerned about rains and flooding and storm surge with the surf. We’ll deal with whatever happens and hope for the best.”

Honolulu police have reassigned nonpatrol officers to patrol duties to cover more of Oahu, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said.

“At this time we’re taking all calls to 911,” Yu said Thursday. “If the situation worsens, we may ask to restrict calls to emergencies only.”

First responders are ready to go out in the dark, wind and rain to deal with a range of issues. That means leaving behind their own families and homes to face the risks of Hurricane Lane alone.

“We do put a lot on our spouses,” Seguirant said. “You’re leaving your family in a possible dangerous situation with a hurricane bearing down on your island. That can be tough. But we all signed up for this. We all know what’s going on.”

And it can be just as hard for family members at home to know that loved ones may be risking their lives to help strangers.

“It does go both ways, and it does add stress to any relationship,” Seguirant said. “That’s why it takes a certain person to do the job, and it takes a certain person to support the one who’s doing the job.”

Mike Ryder, a 47-year-old HECO senior supervisor, grew up in the life watching his dad, Tom, respond to HECO calls until his retirement.

Now Ryder oversees nearly 100 HECO workers out of the Ward Avenue base yard across from the Neal Blaisdell Center.

Some of Ryder’s younger crew members have never had to go out to restore power in hurricane conditions.

“This is a new thing for a lot of the younger guys,” Ryder said. “But our guys are very much used to donning rain gear and rubber boots when it’s windy and rainy. That’s when a lot of our trouble calls happen. Once we get that call, then we’ve got to respond.”

HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said, “These folks climb poles in the rain. They hold electricity literally in their hands. … There’s an inherent danger in electricity that you can only prepare for and be aware of.”

Ryder said part of the job means knowing that “when we’re called on the most is when the conditions are the worst.”

The job also can mean flying to a neighbor island for a couple of weeks to help restore another community’s power needs.

“You need a strong support group from your family understanding that you have to be away from home,” Ryder said.

But when the wet, windy work is done, Ryder said, “there’s a good feeling of being able to help the public.”

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