April 16, 2024

Fire Chief Brad Ventura presents After-Action Report on the Maui wildfires

County of Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura presented the Department of Fire and Public Safety’s After-Action Report on the August 2023 Maui wildfires during a press conference this morning at Kula Fire Station.

Maui Fire Department (MFD) Chief Ventura, along with Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea, outlined the scope of the report, which covers four wildfires that broke out Aug. 8, 2023, and discussed recommendations, some of which MFD has already started to address.

“Due to the collective and heroic efforts of our firefighters, police officers, and countless community members, many lives were saved on August eighth,” MFD Chief Ventura said. “On that daunting day, hundreds of people were rescued in an ‘all hands on deck’ effort. . . . While I am incredibly proud of my department’s response on this day, I believe we can always continue to improve in our efforts.”

MFD routinely conducts post-incident analyses or after-action reports after certain fires. Due to the unprecedented size and scope of the Aug. 8, 2023, wildfires, MFD chose Western Fire Chiefs Association to conduct the After-Action Report.

The report sheds light on Maui firefighter response during the Olinda, Kula, Pūlehu and Lahaina blazes, which were fueled by high winds as Hurricane Dora passed south of the islands.

“It’s important to remember that on August eighth we experienced not just the worst fire in state history -- we experienced the two worst fires in state history, occurring at the same time on the same island,” MFD Assistant Chief Giesea said. “And these were happening along with two other major fires — each of which on their own would have been newsworthy events.”

After-action reviews are deliberate and systematic endeavors to capture lessons that can be learned — both by the responding agencies and by the emergency services more broadly, Assistant Chief Giesea said. They identify what went well and should be sustained, as well as outline improvements that can be made to be better prepared to handle the next incident.

Lahaina response efforts include the following:

  • Firefighters were fighting the fire while they knew their homes were burning down
  • Firefighters rescued people and kept them in the fire truck while evacuating others
  • One firefighter shuttled people between shelters in the firefighter’s personal vehicle
  • An off-duty Ocean Search Officer chose to drive multiple times into the Lahaina fire with his moped to rescue people and transport them to safety
  • Firefighters couldn’t find available fire apparatus so they staged personal vehicles out of the burning area and ran up the hill to evacuate kūpuna from condos

The After-Action Report covers 17 “challenge” areas, or areas for improvement, along with recommendations.

Chief Ventura highlighted three recommendations at the news conference: Fully equip our relief engines; create a statewide mutual aid system; and create a communication plan to evacuate visitors who speak different languages.

Recommendations that MFD has already begun to address include, but are not limited to: Pre-positioning personnel for red flag warnings; enhancing our Ready Set Go messaging; increasing the use of technology; conducting facility assessments for adequate power generation; requesting updates to our Community Wildfire Protection Plan through Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization; conducting meetings with FirstNet and requesting an island specific analysis; increasing training in command and control.  

“Cause and origin” of the fires are not referenced at this time, as it is still under federal investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Chief Ventura said. Once ATF completes its investigation, the investigative report will be provided in its entirety as an appendix to MFD’s Cause and Origin Investigative Report.

To view the MFD After-Action Report, visit www.mauicounty.gov/fire. To view the press conference, visit MFD’s Facebook page.