Kokua Line
June Watanabe

No study guide
offered for HFD test

Question: I will be taking the Honolulu Fire Department recruit test this September (like many). What do I have to study? What level math? Is there a study guide? I couldn't find anything about this from the city.

Answer: There is no study guide or sample questions to help prepare applicants for the written test, which is just the first of many hurdles on the way to becoming a Honolulu firefighter.

The test is on basic math and basic English, said Kenneth Nakamatsu, director of the city Department of Human Resources, which administers the test every three years.

The city doesn't issue any study guide so, if you want to brush up on your math and English, you might have to borrow or buy a self-study book.

Nakamatsu said because the test is "entry level," there won't be any questions about firefighting. The city hires an outside company to provide the examination.

There were more than 4,000 applicants this year, about 80 percent of them eligible to take the written exam. "Whether they show up or not is another matter," Nakamatsu said.

The deadline for applying was June 16.

This year, for the first time, applicants who pass the written test will be subject to a video review, which is set up to test them on their human relations and teamwork skills.

Applicants will view 40 different scenarios, then be presented with 115 multiple-choice questions based on those scenarios. The test is developed and scored by a mainland consultant company.

Nakamatsu said the city decided to use the video test this year after reviewing the test itself and seeing what other jurisdictions are doing to find firefighters.

The written test is combined with the video test, each accounting for 50 percent of an applicants' total score.

From those tests, the pool will be whittled down to 200 to 250 applicants, who then have to take a physical test, involving swimming and an obstacle course meant to replicate what firefighters are called upon to do.

But it's still not over yet for applicants who pass the physical exam.

They will then have to go through an interview by a panel consisting of high-ranking fire officials, who will assess them on the interpersonal "X factor" that can't be determined in written or physical tests.

"We work with them to have a structured interview -- not off-the-cuff questions, but questions related directly to the jobs (firefighters) have to perform," Nakamatsu said. "We try to make an assessment as to who might or might not fit in."

Finally, of those who pass the interview, "anywhere from 30 to 40 a year will go to training class," depending on the number of vacancies that are available, he said.

The list of those who make it to this stage is good for three years.

For more information, call the Department of Human Resources at 523-4301 or 527-5770.

Q: My wife and I bought a unit in a condominium building in Salt Lake and in the past two years the maintenance fee has gone up twice. Now it's over $300 a month and we fear it will go up in the near future. Condo officials said they had to pay for recent upgrades and also had to protect the "reserve" fund. Is there anything an owner can do to protest the increase?

A: If you were given sufficient notice about the increase and are allowed to look at your condominium association's budget and records, then you really don't have a reason to make a protest to the state.

Anyone who buys into a condominium building has to expect that "maintenance fees are always going to go up," said Calvin Kimura, supervising executive officer of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs' Real Estate Commission.

Such fees are determined within each condo association, he said.

If you feel the fee increases are unwarranted or unreasonable, you should contact other apartment owners to see if they agree with you, then approach your association's board, Kimura said.

"In the case of the reserve fund, a lot depends on the age of the structure," he said. "If you buy into a condo that's 30 years old, you're at a stage that a lot of upgrades will need to be done."

Kimura said your complaint highlights the fact that people should get involved in association activities, even running for the board.

But you have a basic right, under the law, to review records annually, including your association's budget and the amount set aside for reserves.

If you study the records, you might get a better perspective of expenses, Kimura said.

A condominium association "is a form of a minigovernment," he said. "Maintenance fees are like taxes -- they pay for the common areas."

There is a big difference between communal living and living in a single-family home, he noted: "With communal living, you're going to do the maintenance and continuously be fixing things," while in your own home, you can decide to just postpone making repairs.

Kimura said if you have more questions or want to find out what the law is, call 586-2643 and ask to speak to a condo specialist.


See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered.
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