The Unsung Heroes – The Maui Fire Department
Fortitude, sacrifice, brotherhood and service. Words that carry a depth much deeper than the pen strike that dents this paper. A sea of blue riding on the yellow ray of sunlight which appears like a symbol of hope in even the most dire situations. Sirens blaring, lights announcing and the simple appearance of these men and women in uniform bring both an admiration and an incredible wave of relief when they arrive.
But who are these almost mystical creatures, the civil servants to our communities? Why do we love them so much? How can we show our gratitude for the work that they do and what compels them to commit their life to running toward the exact situations that the rest of us run from?
I recall in the early days after the tragedy watching another iphone video clip on Youtube of a family being surrounded by flames. They struggle to see the road and they are surrounded by several other cars trying to escape the fires on August 8, 2023. Panic and fear is the baseline in this young man’s voice as he tries to console his wife who is filming and their small children in the car which is completely blanketed by smoke, embers, flying debris and flames in Lahaina. A sense of dread comes over me as I get the inside intimate view of the desperate situation which is rapidly deteriorating.
I cannot fathom what this would be like in this near-death experience, where every second must feel like an eternity as the heat is suffocating and the deadly flames are assaulting everything in their path. There are already bodies on the road that could not survive the heat and smoke. Flames and wind consuming and ravaging its surroundings like a lion who has been starved and is now let loose in a pasture of fresh meat.
Then suddenly in the background you can hear the sirens from a firetruck. Flickering lights become vaguely visible through the dense thick gray smoke as the dusty image of a yellow fire truck comes into view. Seemingly out of nowhere. I feel my own sense of slight hope and relief for these people and then I hear the husband say to his wife “Thank God, it’s gonna be ok-the firefighters are here.”
Those ten words “Thank God, it’s gonna be ok- the firefighters are here” have stayed with me since the day I watched that video. Those words are the epitome of how the rest of us feel about our brave men and women that ride in their yellow chariots here on Maui. Massive bright sun-colored vehicles and helicopters full of their arsenal of equipment that allows them to do what they need to do to get the job done. Like the A-Team on steroids, these fighters do not stop until the task at hand is complete. Whether it is fighting a fire, performing CPR, tearing open a vehicle to extract a victim, sweeping up the roads in the blazing sun after an accident, doing the heavy lifting for the police so that they too can do their job, hanging on a line out of a helicopter hundreds of feet in the air so they can pull an injured person off the side of a cliff, or even just the mundane call like a lift assist-they never stop. And behind the scenes, the constant cleaning, scrubbing and washing that the public doesn’t see. They may spend hours at a fire, could be 3 am when they get back to Station and then the scrubbing and cleaning begins to clean hoses, gear and be prepared for the next call.
Thank God, the firefighters are here…These words have never rang more true than for the people on Maui during this crisis. These guys are fighting the fires, doing their best to save property and human life while surrounded by the heat and flames which are rapidly closing in on them. Acceptance that this is the end for some is wavering in their hearts as the high winds rocket the fire closer to them and quickly surrounds like a snake curling its body around its prey. Some are bunkering against their equipment and preparing to be consumed by the wind and fire because they seem completely surrounded only to be miraculously rescued. Many watched their homes burn to the ground as they continued to battle this raging monster and attempt to keep it at bay. And they continue on. Until they make it back to Station to finally collapse in their fire worn and soot covered bodies. Crumbling at the exhaustion and mental shock of it all. Only to regain themselves and continue on.
The firefighters are the backbone of the community. They are selfless, dedicated and they go non-stop. They consume tragedy and trauma daily and their reprieve and decompression are simple games like shooting hoops, playing volleyball and banging metal at the gym. Their humble sleeping quarters appear more like a college dorm room with second-hand looking dressers and plain basic setups and their slim daily food budget keeps them carefully watching what they spend on their meal prep for each other. With as revered as they are in the community, we all know that they deserve to live like kings, eat like warriors and be celebrated like the most famed war heroes. And yet they are quietly humble, always helpful and gracious and kind in the face of trauma. They give comfort to the hurting in what might be some of the most fearful moments of someone’s life. An incident that the person being helped by a firefighter might remember for the rest of their life but for the man or woman in their navy blue uniform, with the red and gold patch riding their bright yellow truck-it’s just another day on the job.
So why the Ohana Restoration Grant. Because the Maui Firefighters and all firefighters around the globe are our Ohana. They are our family. They are our dedicated protectors and we must care for them as they care for us. Without expecting anything in return and with all that we have to give. We must ensure that these warriors of our communities have everything they need to do their jobs. Without them, there is no one to come at 4 in the morning when that drunken driver plows into the auntie who is headed to work on her early shift. Without them, there is no one to show up at your grandfather’s side in a matter of minutes when he’s going into cardiac arrest and needs to be immediately attended to. There will be no one to race toward your Mother’s house that catches fire and is engulfed in flames and someone has to run inside and pull the family out in time.
The Ohana Restoration Grant of 2023 is a symbolic nod of deep gratitude for all that they do, have done, and will continue to do. Your contributions helped acknowledge their acts of selfless service and our commitment to help them restore their lives so they can continue to serve the community.
We are Ohana. We will restore our Island. And we know we will be granted Grace by God so that we will have the strength and ability to heal. We will trudge this difficult path to rebuilding and new growth. And much like the seed that grows in the dark we will quietly strengthen ourselves. We will break ground with power once we have had time to develop again, our tears will hydrate our dusty heartbroken souls, water the dry rubbed earth upon which Lahaina is buried under and we will be stronger for breaking ground and letting each new day’s sunlight bring hope to a hopeless situation.
We are Maui. Lahaina will live again. And our Aloha will breathe life back into the lifeless survival mode that thousands of our people are living right now. We will keep our boots on the ground, our hearts full of love, and be sure that one hand is out front to keep pulling forward while the other remains behind us to pull our neighbor along with us. Together, globally we will keep our Ohana strong and restore the Aina.