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.

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