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Cause of ambulance fire that killed patient, injured paramedic in Kailua remains unclear

A Honolulu ambulance caught on fire outside Adventist Health Castle in Kailua, Oʻahu. (Aug. 24, 2022)
Jason Ubay
A Honolulu ambulance caught on fire outside Adventist Health Castle in Kailua, Oʻahu. (Aug. 24, 2022)

The Honolulu Fire Department continues to investigate the cause of an ambulance fire that killed a patient and critically injured a paramedic Wednesday night in Kailua on O’ahu.

"We had an ambulance tonight for reasons we don't understand catch on fire, possibly explode, prior to entering the hospital," said Dr. Jim Ireland, the emergency services director. “We're all just very concerned about our team and the patient that lost their life.”

The ambulance caught on fire as it pulled into Adventist Health Castle hospital around 8 p.m. during a 911 call for a 91-year-old man in serious condition. He died inside the ambulance.

The patient was later identified as Fred Kaneshiro of Waimānalo.

The injured paramedic, a 10-year veteran, was initially treated at the Kailua hospital and then taken to another emergency room at the Straub Burn Unit, a Honolulu news release said.

The paramedic was later identified as Jeff Wilkinson, 36. In a statement, his family thanked the community for their support.

"Although Jeff has a long and difficult recovery ahead of him, he's progressing better than we expected. We look forward to the day that he's able to return home," his family said in a statement released Saturday.

The emergency medical technician driving the ambulance was not injured.

The fire department and federal officials will investigate the cause of the fire.

“This morning we were in contact with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as the ATF, and we are making all records available to these agencies because I want answers,” Ireland said. "We want answers because we want to know what happened and we want to make sure this never happens again.”

Calls and emails to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were not immediately answered.

Ireland said that he and his colleagues could not recall a similar incident in Hawaiʻi.

“This is extremely rare. And if you look at reports from the mainland, it has happened, but it’s very, very rare," Ireland said. "In 30 years here, I’ve never seen it.”

When asked about the use of oxygen devices in ambulances, he said, "As far as how often we use this type of equipment, and I'm not even acknowledging we were using it on this call, but I'm just saying we carry it. We use oxygen every day on many, many calls, so probably a few dozen times a day."

EMS officials said without more information, they will not be changing operations at this time.

“It is a devastating day for our Adventist Health Castle family. We extend our deepest sympathies to the patient’s loved ones during this difficult time,” said Ryan Ashlock, president of Adventist Health Castle, in a statement.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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