In 1850 Honolulu’s volunteer fire department was organized. David Kalakaua joined and in 1871 was elected foreman of engine company number 4. He did not abandon his responsibilities as a volunteer firefighter after being elected King and responded to fires with the rest of the department.
#Onthisday in 1886 a few minutes before 4 p.m., a fire was accidently started in a Chinese cook house on Hotel Street. According to the Hawaiian Gazette, “the King true to his instincts of an old fireman, was promptly on hand and personally directed the work on Maunakea Street. Here he did excellent work urging on the willing men and exerting himself in the attempt to stay the work of the raging flames. Again, and again did the men under his command strive to stay the flames, and again and again were they driven back.”
When the Honolulu Daily Press went to print after midnight, firefighters were still working to extinguish the last of the ‘embers.’ By the time the flames were put out, Chinatown was leveled from Queen to Beretania and from Nuuanu to River Streets.
The following day, the Privy Council approved a resolution providing financial relief for victims of the fire that destroyed much of Chinatown. Resolutions are similar to today’s emergency declarations for natural disasters. The fire that had started in the afternoon of April 18 in a building on the corner of Smith and Hotel Streets lasted three days and destroyed 500 homes and businesses.