Three members of the Hawai’i Police Department’s Special Response Team received the Silver Medal of Valor on Thursday, August 30, for barricading an explosive ordnance in February, preventing two days worth of rolling blackouts over Super Bowl weekend.
On the evening of Saturday, February 4, an old grenade was discovered on the grounds of Hawai’i Electric Light Company’s main power plant in Hilo on Kanoelehua. When informed that the military’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team would be unable to respond from O’ahu for two days, HELCO executives concluded that the power plant would need to be shut down until the ordance disposal team’s arrival to protect the safety of workers at the plant, which is manned 24-hours a day. That would have led to islandwide rolling blackouts, affecting public health and safety and disrupting Super Bowl festivities.
To prevent that, Assistant Chief Marshall Kanehailua, Lieutenant Thomas Shopay and Officer Paul Kim volunteered to barricade the grenade until the ordinance disposal team could respond. Using sandbags to construct a barrier around the grenade, the three men worked through the night to contain the threat to the power plant.
Due to safety regulations, employees from HELCO and the Hawai?i County Department of Public Works, who were assisting, couldn’t approach the ordnance, so Kanehailua offered to operate a forklift to place sandbags around the grenade with Shopay and Kim’s assistance.
“Your actions were both gallant and worthy of distinction in that you voluntarily placed yourself in a position of personal danger in order to safeguard the property, lives and well-being of others,” Chief Harry Kubojiri wrote in commendation letters to Kanehailua, Shopay and Kim.
The medals were presented to the three recipients during a private breakfast ceremony Thursday morning held in the mayor’s office.
“I know they are humble, and the last thing they wanted was recognition for this,” the chief said during the ceremony. “I’m sure if you ask them, they’ll say they were just doing their job. I’m very proud of the work they did. To expose themselves when they didn’t have to for the good of the entire community is above and beyond.”
Mayor Billy Kenoi told the awardees, “You guys went in, and what you guys did was nothing short of unbelievable. On behalf of the people of the County of Hawai’i, thank you for what you do every day, and a special mahalo for what you did on that day.”
Kanehailua is assistant chief in charge of the Administrative Bureau. His responsibilities include being incident commander of the Special Response Team. Some of his previous assignments were major in charge of the Administrative Services Division, captain of the Internal Affairs and Criminal Intelligence units, captain and of the Ka‘u District, Vice Section lieutenant and member of the Ice Task Force. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He joined the Police Department in 1990. Thursday afternoon, he said he didn’t really want the recognition–he just did what needs to be done.
He also said the HELCO plant and that area were training areas used during World War II, so the grenade had probably been there for decades. Kanehailua has no special training in ordnance disposal, but he does know how to operate a forklift. He said he and Shopay and Kim worked as a team to barricade the grenade.
Shopay is lieutenant in charge of the Special Response Team. He joined the Police Department in December 1999, working as a patrol officer in Kona, a vice officer in Kona and Special Response Team sergeant in Kona. Shopay said the event was all in a day’s work. Shopay has had several different types of training in recognizing explosives, but he said here on the island, the police teams don’t typically need to disarm bombs. He said he, Kanehailua, and Kim just put their heads together and figured out the best and safest way to deal with the problem.
Kim is a Traffic Enforcement Unit officer and a member of the Special Response Team. His previous assignments were as a patrol officer in South Kohala and South Hilo. He joined the Police Department in October 2003.
The Silver Medal of Valor is presented to officers cited for gallantry while in performance of their duty with marked distinction.
The Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit from Oahu eventually took the grenade up to Pohakuloa Training Area and detonated it. Roger Keller with HELCO said there is a longterm plan to search for more unexploded ordnances. He confirmed that the whole area is a former military training area in use during World War II so it is likely that from time to time unexploded ordnances could be found.