By Angela Sanders, Fire Inspector, Federal Fire Department Hawaii
The Federal Fire Department Fire Prevention Division visited the Waihe’e Tunnel on Feb. 18 to gain proficiency training. The Waihe’e Tunnel is an active water facility managed by the Board of Water Supply. The purpose of the visit was to discuss water supply distribution systems as part of the division’s proficiency training.
Proficiency training requirements are conducted to maintain current knowledge and skills necessary to perform the duties as a fire inspector. This training refreshes, introduces and promotes new ideas to help in the development of technology aimed at growing the fire protection and prevention industry.
The fire personnel toured the tunnel and discussed the uniqueness of Oahu’s water distribution systems in past and present time. Oahu’s age, shape and steep mountains are unique and contribute to the formation and trapping of clouds. These clouds provide the island with abundant rainfall and contribute to the islands water cycle equation.
“The experience was both educational and spiritual. The connection between the Hawaiian culture and their natural resource was evident during the tour,” said Tech Sgt. Matthew Walls battalion chief, Air Force Service.
“A greater appreciation of the land was gained as well as a deeper understanding of the commercial water supply system and how it affects the Federal Fire Department’s mission to provide protection to our community,” he said.
The tour began with a walk inside the 1,500-foot dike tunnel which provides water to windward Oahu, from Kahalu’u to Kailua. The tour included an introduction of the island’s water cycle, the importance of the island’s forested watershed areas, and the purpose and history of the Waihe’e tunnel.
In ancient times, the Native Hawaiians drew their water supplies from fresh water springs, lakes, streams and shallow wells. The entire population of hundreds of thousands thrived through wise management of their resources. Strict laws governing water resources were enforced and eventually became the law of the land. The ancient Hawaiians learned the value of its limited resource. Water was their source of life.
In the 1800s after the western explores arrived, the laws of the water were abolished and uncontrolled drilling led to chaos and drought. Artesian wells were abandoned and neglected and millions of gallons of water were wasted. The overall lack of extensive planning led to the absence of a reliable water system. Fire protection was minimal and the threat of waterborne disease was constant.
After Hawaii was designated as a U.S. territory, the water system became the responsibility of the superintendent of public works of the territory of Hawaii. In 1987, the state water code was adopted and various layers of protection for the Hawaiian Islands waters were set.
“It was a great opportunity for us to learn about Oahu’s water distributions systems and our Hawaiian history. I would like to thank our tour guide, Arthur Aiu, for a great experience and a very informative class,” said Al Balderama, battalion chief for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
For more information about the Federal Fire Department, contact Fire Inspector at 471-3303, ext. 617.