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Costs estimated at $500K to renovate vacant Molokai home into fire station

New facility will be renamed Ualapue Fire Station once it opens

A map shows the 2.3-mile distance between the current Pukoo Fire Station and the future Ualapue Fire Station. Photos courtesy Maui Fire Department

A $300,000 three-bedroom home purchased by Maui County in Ualapue will serve as the new fire station on Molokai’s East End.

The county reported earlier this month that it had purchased the home that will be remodeled to include firefighters’ quarters and office space. The 11,000-square-foot property, including the house built in 1978, is mauka of Kamehameha V Highway and outside flood zones.

It will be renamed as the Ualapue Fire Station when the Fire Department relocates from the current Pukoo station.

At the Pukoo station, which is below the highway in a flood zone, flooding and the condition of the 83-year-old building, which has fallen into disrepair, have been issues, Fire Chief Brad Ventura said at a Fire and Public Safety Commission meeting last week.

At times, the yard has been flooded in 4 to 6 feet of water, he said. “Depending on tidal surge, high tide, low tide and rain, the cesspool can overflow,” Ventura said. “Nobody’s willing to go on the roof.”

The front of a three-bedroom home purchased by Maui County for $300,000 is shown. The county plans to remodel the home into firefighters’ quarter and office space to serve as the future Ualapue Fire Station.

He said it wouldn’t be appropriate to spend county money on the Pukoo property, which is owned by the state Department of Health and leased on a month-to-month basis.

“With all of these things that are kind of looming over us, we thought it would be important for us to move on this station and improve in many ways,” Ventura said.

He said an estimated $500,000 in renovations, including replacing the roof and windows and converting to a septic system, would be done on the house in Ualapue, which has been vacant for a while.

The state Department of the Attorney General is reviewing an agreement to allow the Fire Department to use some state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property around the house, including to provide driveway and mauka access for the station, Ventura said.

Before any construction, he said an environmental assessment, archaeological inventory and cultural review are required.

Since the Pukoo station opened in 1990, two firefighters have been assigned to the station, which serves an area of about 1,500 residents. The Fire Department now wants to move the station, as it is located in a flood zone and has fallen into disrepair.

In addition, the department is asking to reallocate a firefighter position at the station to a captain who would be in charge, in keeping with the growing responsibilities there, Ventura said.

Since the station opened in 1990, two firefighters — a firefighter I and firefighter III or driver — have been assigned to the station, which serves an area of about 1,500 residents.

“We didn’t expect the driver and firefighter I to be responding to as many major calls as they do today,” Ventura said. “There’s too many responsibilities for people that are not trained to the right level.”

So far, the reallocation has the support of Mayor Michael Victorino and the Maui County Council, Ventura said.

Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who holds the Molokai residency seat, said she supports the new station.

“Providing quick and effective emergency response for the community is essential,” she said. “Investing in a new Manae fire station gives us the opportunity to provide safe housing for our firefighters, while ensuring continued emergency services for our Molokai residents and visitors.

“The community and I are grateful to the administration and my fellow council members for securing funding in this year’s budget for the first phase of construction and future funding for its completion.”

Before the Pukoo Fire Station was built, firefighters from the Kaunakakai station would respond to emergencies on the East End.

From Kaunakakai, it takes 45 minutes to get to the end of the road in Halawa, Ventura said. From Pukoo, it takes 30 minutes. “In our line of work, 15 minutes is a very big number,” he said.

When the Pukoo station opened in 1990 with a driver, firefighter and a leftover vehicle, a main concern was responding to major medical calls in the remote area that had no ambulance service, Ventura said.

He said a fire engine was purchased for the station in 2004, followed by another fire engine in 2017 that provided the capability of fighting larger fires with more than two firefighters, Ventura said. He said the station also has a utility vehicle that can be used in rough terrain when searching for lost hikers or responding to plane or helicopter crashes.

“Basically, we’re giving them more tools and more responsibilities, but we still have a driver and a firefighter I out there,” he said.

The Ualapue location is 2.3 miles closer to Kaunakakai than the Pukoo station, Ventura said.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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