'Fire ship' blessed in Honolulu Harbor

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (04/22/00)
By Ray Pendleton

What do the Hawaiian words moku ahi mean to you? You're getting close if you said "island tuna," but still no cigar.

According to my Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary, moku is the word for island all right, but ahi without a stress mark on the a, means fire, not tuna. So, when used together, the words translate literally to fire island, or as Hawaiians first described a steamship, fire ship.

Moku Ahi also happens to be the name of a vessel that should be easily recognized and appreciated by everyone in Honolulu's maritime community. It is the very appropriate name of the Honolulu Fire Department fireboat.

Moku Ahi made news last week when she was blessed for the second time in her 10-year existence.

The blessing was part of a larger ceremony which included both the fireboat and the newly renovated Pier 15, alongside the HFD's Waterfront Fire Station.

Honolulu Harbor history buffs can tell you Moku Ahi replaced the city's earlier fireboat, Abner T. Longley, which served the HFD and the community from 1951 until her retirement.

Abner T. Longley was sold at auction in 1993 and was privately rebuilt to Coast Guard specifications as a commercial, 149-passenger harbor cruiser. She is now frequently seen spouting water at special occasions, such as waterfront parades or the recent opening of the new marina at Ko Olina.

I was invited to attend the official blessing ceremony last Friday by my friend Lance Orillo, who is one of Moku Ahi's three certified pilots. He knew that as a boating journalist, as well as a retired firefighter, I would especially appreciate the significance of the event.

After going aboard and reviewing the fireboat's vital statistics, it occurred to me that almost anyone might like to know more about this special vessel.

Moku Ahi was designed by naval architects Guido Perla & Associates in Seattle, Washington, and built by Moss Pointe Marine in Escatawpa, Mississippi at a cost of nearly $3 million. She was commissioned on February 15, 1990.

Built of steel, Moku Ahi is 110 feet long, 22 feet wide, has a 7-foot draft and displaces 126 tons. She is powered by two Detroit diesel engines and has a top speed of 20 knots.

To accomplish her mission of extinguishing fires, Moku Ahi can pump 7,500 gallons of sea water per minute through her four monitors, or water cannon. Putting that into perspective, she could fill your average backyard swimming pool in about 4 1/2 minutes.

When it is determined that foam would be a better extinguishing agent rather than water, Moku Ahi can produce 2,000 gallons of the fire-smothering suds in a minute.

In any 24-hour period, Moku Ahi's crew consists of her captain, a firefighter III pilot, marine engineer and pump engineer, and two fire fighter I's. And, although they are all Honolulu Fire Department personnel, their salaries, as well as the purchase and maintenance costs of the fireboat, are paid for by the state Department of Transportation as a necessary cost for protecting its Honolulu Harbor jurisdiction.

As the Honolulu City Council has recently requested the Moku Ahi's crew to provide a festive, water spray greeting to visiting cruise ships, you will probably be seeing her more often. So, now that you've been introduced, give the guys a wave when you're out there.

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