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Honolulu Fire Department Established

HONOLULU FIRE DEPARTMENT HISTORY

On December 27, 1850, King Kamehameha III signed an ordinance establishing the Honolulu Fire Department, the first fire department in the Hawaiian Islands and the only fire department in the United States established by a ruling monarch. W.C. Parke was the first Fire Chief. In later years, King David Kalakaua who served briefly with Engine 4 continued the personal interest of the monarchy in the department.

During the mid-1800s, fire fighting equipment consisted primarily of buckets and portable water supplies. When Alexander Cartwright replaced W.C. Parke as Fire Chief in 1853, the department began to grow rapidly. Several new hand-drawn engine companies were added along with a hook and ladder company. In 1870, the tallest landmark in Honolulu was the bell tower of Central Fire Station, then located on Union Street. At night, a watchman would sit in the tower, ready to sound the alarm if he spotted a fire. Central Fire Station was later relocated to its present site at Beretania and Fort Streets.

Two of the department's most famous fires occurred in Chinatown in downtown Honolulu, the first in 1886 and the second in 1900. Each leveled almost the entire Chinatown community with damage estimates for both well exceeding $1 million.

In 1893, the Hawaiian Legislature passed an act authorizing funding for salaries for the department's fire fighters. Prior to this act, they had all served as volunteers. In the same year, the department purchased horses to pull its steam engines to fires rather than pulling them manually. The first motorized apparatus arrived in 1912, and by 1920, the department was completely motorized.

A switchboard system was installed in 1930, allowing the department to send alarms out to the stations from one central location. Radio communication was established in 1932 when transmitters were installed in three chiefs' vehicles. The culmination of these communication improvements was the formation of the Fire Alarm Bureau in 1933.


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During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, three engine companies, Engines 1,4, and 6, were dispatched to Hickam Air Force Base to fight the fires caused by enemy action. Two fire captains and a hoseman were killed and six other fire fighters were wounded while fighting fires at Hickam Field. These fire fighters were awarded Purple Hearts and became the only civilian fire fighters in the United States to have ever received this award.

In 1959, Hawaii became the fiftieth state of the United States. This meant that the Honolulu Fire Department had served the people of Hawaii under a monarchy, a provisional government, a republic, a territory, and finally, a state of the Union. William K. Blaisdell was the Fire Chief in 1959.

One of the most important pieces of rescue and fire fighting equipment in the department was purchased in 1995, a NOTAR Helicopter. This helicopter, like the ones that preceded it, continues to prove its value, time and time again, in mountain and ocean rescues and in fire fighting for surveillance and water drops.

One of the department's recent acquisitions was the Moku Ahi, the new fireboat. The Moku Ahi replaces the Abner T. Longley, which was commissioned in 1951. The Moku Ahi is berthed at the Waterfront Station at Pier 15 in Honolulu Harbor.

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