HONOLULU — The leader of Hawaii’s firefighter union has criticized the Honolulu Fire Department’s response to the apartment building fire in July that killed three people and left scores of apartments in the 36-story complex uninhabitable.

Hawaii Fire Fighters Association President Bobby Lee said Honolulu Assistant Chief Ronald Rico is tasked with leading fire emergency response operations, but was not at the fire and pulled back a mobile command center that would have helped firefighters as they fought the blaze.

Lee made the comments before the city’s fire commission on Wednesday, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (http://bit.ly/2fmjGQv ).

He also criticized Fire Chief Manuel Neves and Deputy Fire Chief Lionel Camara Jr. for not ordering Rico to be on scene.

“When you look at the senior leadership, their job is to lead, we expect them to lead,” Lee said. “And for whatever reason, at this fire, they chose not to. Some chose to show up. And those that did show up chose not to lead.

“It makes absolutely no sense not to be dispatched for the largest high-rise fire the state has ever seen.”

Neves declined to respond to Lee’s complaints, saying he will do so when a report about the fire is released. He said it is typically up to the assistant chief of operations to decide to be present at a scene.

“We’re dying to tell our side as well,” Neves said.

Fire Commissioner Arnold Wong told Lee that the panel should come back and look further into his concerns after the department completes and makes public its final report on the fire.

“It is disturbing to me if this is all true,” Wong said. “But (we) have to hear the other side of it, and we can’t yet go up to that point yet.”

Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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