KAHULUI - As a black plume of smoke rose seven stories above his head, Tye Perdido was never nervous.
Instead, excitement filled his body Tuesday while he fought his first fire during training as an airport firefighter recruit at Kahului Airport.
Carrying a heavy water hose and coming close to a 600 to 800 degree fire engulfing a mock-up of an airplane crash "was not as difficult" as Perdido thought. He had his training to rely on.
Maui County and state firefighter recruits watch as a black plume of smoke bursts into the air at their live-fire training at Kahului Airport on Tuesday.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
Maui County fire recruit Keali‘i Karlen greets his children Sonny, 3, (left) and Buster, 7, before the exercise. Keali‘i Karlen’s wife, Sienna, said she was both excited and nervous for her husband’s first big training exercise.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
"Plus our adrenaline is going. We had five times the energy than normal," said the 2006 Seabury Hall graduate.
There were many other firsts for Perdido and others at Tuesday's live-fire training at Kahului Airport for 23 Maui County and state airport firefighter recruits.
The training marked the first time that there was a full combined recruit class with both 12 county and 11 state firefighters, said Maui District Airports Manger Marvin Moniz.
Normally, county and airport firefighters train separately.
"We felt it was important (to do this) because of the lack of resources we have here on Maui and the Neighbor Islands, Moniz said.
There are safety, educational and financial benefits for the two groups to train together, he said.
"In a crisis, we get additional support from county and state, Moniz said, noting that airport and county firefighters work together to battle brush fires near the airport. And, he pointed out, if there were a crisis at the airport, it would help for county firefighters to be knowledgeable about the facility.
Maui County Fire Chief Jeff Murray agreed that county and airport firefighters training together strengthens both the state and county programs as well as gives all firefighters better tools to help the public.
"The responsibility doesn't end on their property or our property. We need to work together," Murray said.
Like Moniz, Murray pointed out that both firefighting agencies have an agreement to assist each other, and sometimes, airport fire crews respond to incidents where their equipment and specialized fire-dousing foam is needed.
The chief added that an airplane crash wouldn't necessarily happen at the airport.
Murray said that having the combined classes also allows the state recruits to stay on Maui to train, instead of needing to travel off-island.
Moniz said the combined training will result in a savings of more than $100,000, just for the current 29th recruit class because state and county officials can pull together resources such as trainers and facilities.
Just as an example of how costly training is, Airport Fire Capt. Scott Pires said the cost for the jet fuel used in Tuesday's live-fire training amounts to more than $5,000, with a gallon of jet fuel costing around $4.80. The live burn used around 1,100 gallons of jet fuel.
The state and county recruits also train together at a mock fire training site near the airport, at an old state-owned building, Moniz said. He said the state and county shared in the costs for establishing the training site. He did not immediately have official costs or savings on hand for the facility.
"This has been a long time coming," Pires said of the combined class, after the live burn was over. "We talked about it for years and years. It finally came to fruition."
He said the only other time state and county fire recruits combined their training was around a year ago when two airport firefighters graduated with other county firefighter recruits. At that time, both the county and state were tinkering with the joint program.
The following recruit class was only made up of county recruits, who also received airport firefighting certification training, Murray said.
This class is the first to be filled with both state and county recruits.
Pires said Maui is currently the only county in the state to integrate their recruit classes, and he hopes that the program will continue.
Although Maui County fire crews also train at the airport, Pires said the new recruits will have a special airport firefighting certification when they graduate, something most graduates of previous recruit classes don't have.
All the recruits learn how to operate the firetrucks on the airport runway, which can be a dangerous and tricky feat in itself during the day and night, Pires said.
Recruits need to know the fuel loads of different types of aircraft as well as learn to turn the engines off of helicopters, small computer planes and wide-body planes, Pires added.
But, on Tuesday, it was an all hands-on experience when recruits and their invited family members watched as jet fuel was filled into a circular pit just off to the makai side of the airport.
As her husband, Keali'i Karlen, suited up and waited for the exercise to begin, wife Sienna, who watched with their two children, said she was both excited and nervous for her husband.
But she added that her husband and the other recruits have trained hard.
"I know they're prepared," she said.
As airport firefighters lit the fuel on the outside of the pit, the recruits appeared excited, even moving from their positions to get a better view of the fire growing before their eyes.
As the fire got larger, it surrounded a steel structure designed to resemble an airplane.
Either pumped up with excitement or trying to adjust the oxygen tank on their backs, some recruits jumped up and down waiting for the fire to expand.
Finally after a plume of black smoke rose high up into the air, recruits took their hoses and charged the fire.
Using a sweeping side-to-side motion they doused and pushed the fire to the edges of the fire pit to contain the blaze.
Pires said, in a real aircraft fire, foam would be used, but that it would take recruits just seconds to douse the fire with the foam.
But using water, recruits were able to get more time to experience dealing with the heat of the fire as well as working together to douse the blaze.
The training exercise lasted around five minutes.
Perdido said he had fun.
"(This was the) thing we have been waiting for this whole time . . . Very exciting."
The recruit training lasts for 26 weeks. Graduation is scheduled for October.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.