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 county fire department
Taming a brush fire.

Recruits train for these kinds of fires at the department’s live-burn facility in Kahului. The morning I’m there, thick smoke billows from a retrofitted storage container. The flames building inside the corrugated metal walls release a steady crackle that’s getting louder by the minute. In an instant, a yellow fire engine turns the corner and speeds towards the sizzling structure. A rugged choreography ensues: three men get to work stretching the 150-foot hose, two others haul and hoist ladders against the building, someone bangs on the container’s roof with a heavy metal hook to check the structure’s integrity, and another uses a chainsaw to slice holes in the roof for ventilation. With the smoke and heat now rushing skyward, firefighters on the ground dart into the building, retrieve a training dummy, then tame the flames into a pile of ash.

Today’s drill is part of the program that works towards transforming new hires into full-fledged firefighters. It begins in recruit class, a kind of “boot camp meets S.A.T. prep course” that lasts six to seven months. Days are spent simulating emergencies, like dousing 1,100 gallons of live jet fuel at Kahului International Airport, or leaping off cliffs to practice for rough-water entries. The department includes about 300 firefighters, and earning a spot within these ranks is a feat in itself.

“Out of the thousand or so people who apply, the department may pull fifteen to thirty firefighters, depending on openings,” says Yatsushiro. “They’re people who come from all kinds of backgrounds; the joke is that you could probably build a house from the ground up just with the experience we have within the fire department.”

Then there’s the classroom work, where recruits thumb through a manual the size of a telephone book. From medical responses to building construction to the science behind different kinds of fire, the trainees develop a mental cache of emergency responses.



  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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