Honolulu Captain Claims Whistleblower Violation

A veteran fire captain on the Honolulu Fire Department has filed suit against Fire Chief Kenneth Silva and the department alleging he was retaliated against for raising concerns about a fatal fire. Captain George Kaopuiki filed suit  last week in state Circuit Court alleging that his suspension and transfer were in violation of his free speech rights under the Federal and state constitutions and violate the Hawaii Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.

Captain Kaopuiki raised the concerns following a fire that claimed the life of 77-year old Karen Chikamori on December 14, 2011. Captain Kaopuiki found Chikamori and brought her out of the building alive and breathing, only to wait an extended period of time for EMS to arrive.

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported that the concerns raised included:

  1. Not hooking up to the fire hydrant to ensure an ample water supply.
  2. Not initiating rescue search as soon as they could have if the water supply had been sufficiently ensured early on.
  3. EMS was not contacted for 19 minutes after the removal of the fire victim who was alive and breathing when Kaopuiki carried her out of the burning residence.
  4. The reasons these and other similar incidents are occurring is HFD’s lack of training.

The concerns were raised at a meeting that followed the fire. Shortly thereafter, the department initiated an investigation into Captain Kaopuiki’s treatment of a subordinate. The suit alleges the investigation was retaliation and orchestrated by Chief Silva.

More on the story.


About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • ukfbbuff

    Yes, sound s like Retaliation to me for doing his job.

    How more simple than having the first engine use tank water and the second engine drop a supply line in to the first engine or both use
    tank water if its a long hose lay.

    The clock is ticking. If it took 19 minutes just to contact EMS and then another 3-5 minutes for them to get on scene and begin ALS Treatment, this definitely had a negative impact on patient care.

    Guess the HFD is “Stuck in” its just carbon Monoxide Poisoning not thinking about HCN gas as the second “Bad Actor”/”Sister” in Smoke Exposure.

    Hard to be the Whistleblower, but Capt. Kaopuiki made some valid complaints and this is what he gets.

    Under the “Calif. FF Bill pf Rights” the four year old memo he wrote would not be relevant in his current situation. It would have “Timed Out” after one year. Any disciplinary action related to it would have to have been concluded with one year from the date the FD received it.
    Sorry to see he has to go through this for doing his job but hope he wins his case.

    • 27yrvet

      George Kaopuiki does not deserve your support ukfbbuff. His claims are bogus and are an attempt for him to become a “whistleblower” so he doesn’t get fired for incompetance. He has been a problem child his whole career. HFD’s biggest mistake was to promote him in the first place. The truth will come out in the end.

  • Citizen 1

    Why would he be fired for incompetance? He’s the one that brought the woman out of the fire? His crew was not the first on the scence was it? Why wasn’t the first response crew already hooked up to water and searching for this woman? Instead of attacking the messenger, why isn’t the validity of his claims being addressed. If what he says is true…what does it matter that he’s been a “problem child”? He’s been doing his job (and quite well apparently) for 23 years!! He’s not getting any money out of this suit…just looking out for public safety when his “higher ups” don’t seem to care.

    • 27yrvet

      Citizen1…like I said earlier, his claims are bogus. He did not carry the woman from the fire. Another crew rescued the woman and turned her over to his crew for treatment. HFD will not address his claims in public because of the pending lawsuit, but his claims will be refuted in court. Personally, I have been trained and trained my men more in the last few years than ever before. As for, “doing his job and quite well apparently”, he has been a captain for only a short time and has already been moved from 3 stations because of complaints from his cews or for fighting. Also, as a FF3, he was sent to the Training Bureau for remedial training because he was having problems at his station. He is under investigation again at his 4th station and that is why he filed this “whistleblower” lawsuit, to preempt the HFD from firing him. I am attacking the “messenger” because he does have a personal motive (and not public safety)and the “higher ups” cannot defend themselves or their training practices because of pending litigation.

  • Justice

    Sounds more like 27yrvet has the personal vendetta. It’s people like 27yrvet that keep people from coming forward (whistleblowing) when there is injustice. Like Citizen 1 said, Kaopuiki is not getting any money for this, but he is looking out for the public’s safety. What are you doing 27yrvet?

    • 27yrvet

      Just letting the public know that there is another side to Kaopuiki’s story and hopefully, people will keep an open mind until the truth comes out in court.

  • hazmatman79

    It is upsetting to see people with no personal knowledge of this case supporting George. George was on his way to termination for numerous workplace violence incidents spanning years. The final complaint was pending against him when the underlying fire allowed him a convenient way to divert attention away from his inevitable termination. The true victims here are 1) the decedent whose unfortunate death is being used by George for his personal gain, and 2) the victims of George’s violent outbursts and threats over the years that were intimated by him or by management not to report the incidents. This case is truly an insult to the judicial system as well as the fire service in general.


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