In Case of Emergency

Protecting multiple islands in the middle of the world's largest ocean is no simple feat, but Maui County's firefighters do it daily. From dousing flames, to diving underwater, to scaling mountains, rescuers must be prepared for anything—so they train for everything.

maui firefighters
A firefighter contemplates the line he’ll take during ropes training at Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area.

Our growing visitor population adds yet another challenge for firefighters, because our landscape, besides being beautiful, can also be deadly. Exploring beyond the beaten path when you don’t know the terrain and weather patterns is a recipe for trouble. Last year alone, the department responded to nearly 11,000 calls.

“When I was on rescue, we’d get calls from visitors in distress and it was like, ‘They’re where? How did they get in the middle of nowhere?’” says Pokini. “We’d go down and grab them, and on our way out I’d ask them how they knew about this place; they’d almost always say they read about it in the Maui Revealed guidebook.”

He adds, “People nowadays can just look up anywhere they want to go — pull it up on a map and say, ‘I’m going to go here today’ — and put themselves in places where they probably shouldn’t be.”

Add to all that the fact that we’re on the most isolated island chain on Earth, and you can see why our firefighters have to excel at far more skills, in a variety of threatening situations, than most other firefighters do.

maui hawaii jet ski rescue
Jet Ski instruction is one of seventeen disciplines in the department’s preparedness training program that address Maui County’s diverse mauka to makai (mountain to ocean) terrain. Here a firefighter retrieves his partner during an exercise at surf break Pier 1 in Kahului.

“Many departments on the mainland have agreements with neighboring departments to step in if a certain specialty is needed,” explains MCFD Training Bureau Captain Rylan Yatsushiro. “Our next resource is a plane or a boat ride away.”

To understand how everyday citizens become lifesavers, I tagged along with firefighters in training. I realized right away that, while it’s all for practice, the danger is very real.

In addition to the more exotic rescues, trainees and veterans alike must keep up with the latest in fighting fires. Modern construction and synthetic fillings in furniture burn much faster than old-fashioned, natural fillings like feathers and cotton, changing the game for rescuers.



  1. Hello. I am a 74 year old retired US Marine. I live on Cape Cod. I assist with Cape Cod cares for the troops and Cape Cod thin blue line. My hobby is collecting law enforcement and fire patches and emblems. Was wondering if possible to get any patches from your department? Thanks in advance.


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