UPDATED: IAFF continues to respond in the aftermath of the Hawaii Wildfires

August 18 • 2023

IAFF Disaster Relief team organizing membership assistance.

UPDATE (8/18 9:45 a.m. EDT) The death toll as a result of the fast-moving Hawaii wildfires has risen to 111. That number could go up as Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams, which include IAFF members, continue to search for victims and assist survivors.IAFF Peer Support Team members are now in Hawaii to support the USAR teams after a special request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). While on the ground, peer support team members will be available to deliver services to Hawaii members as needed.

Meanwhile, outreach to active and retired Hawaii members who have been displaced or otherwise impacted by the fires is ongoing.

It has all been made possible through funding from the IAFF Foundation. Click here or text “GIVE” to (808) 606-4233 (IAFF) to donate. The California Professional Firefighters have also set up a Maui Wildfire Relief Fund. Anyone wishing to contribute may do so here.

UPDATE (8/14 2:30 p.m. EDT) As Hawaii officials begin the recovery process in the aftermath of the deadly fires, the IAFF is on the ground delivering disaster relief assistance to the members in Maui.

The number of Hawaiian Islands Local 1463 member homes lost to the fires has increased from 14 to 19. Membership needs are still being assessed, but limited cell phone service, electricity outages, and hazardous conditions have made it difficult to get a complete picture.

“The devastation that our Hawaii sisters and brothers have experienced is incredible. Many have lost everything,” said General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma who is serving on the relief team. “But even as their own homes were in danger and burning, our members remained on duty to protect their community. This IAFF has the same level of commitment towards our members. Just as our members there for their community, the IAFF is and will always be there for our members providing disaster relief. Taking care of each other is what we do as fire fighters and as a union.” 

Joining General Secretary-Treasurer Líma with the relief efforts are 10th District Vice President Steve Gilman, Hawaii State Fire Fighters Association President Bobby Lee, and several Hawaii members are on the ground in Maui. 

General Secretary-Treasurer Lima, District Vice President Gilman, and others in Hawaii helping members.

POSTED (8/11 1:04 p.m. EDT) The Hawaii fires, the state’s largest natural disaster since the 1960 tsunami, have taken the lives of at least 80 people and left one Hawaiian Islands Local 1463 member with significant burn injuries. The fires located on the Island of Maui and the Big Island have also burned hundreds of structures, including the homes of at least 14 Local 1463 members.

“As our members continue to battle these catastrophic fires working hard to protect Hawaii’s citizens and visitors, this union will use every tool available to take care of them and their families,” said General President Edward Kelly. “I’ve spoken with Hawaii State Fire Fighters President Bobby Lee and committed the full resources of the IAFF to the efforts.

“10th District Vice President Stephen Gilman and other resources have been assigned to the islands,” he continued. “The IAFF will be there for our Hawaiian brothers and sisters for as long as they need us.” Resources are being made available through the IAFF Foundation’s Disaster Relief program, including immediate financial relief to displaced members, peer support, and assistance with basic supplies and other critical needs.

Members who want to help are encouraged to donate here.

“We will be doing everything we can to support our member who is currently hospitalized for burn injuries as well as any of our members who have been displaced,” said Gilman. “Once we get on the ground, we will be able to access the full scope of membership needs and provide additional assistance.”

The fires ignited Aug. 8 and quickly spread due to high winds from Hurricane Dora, which was passing to the south of the islands, extreme heat, and dry conditions. Lahaina, a town that dates to the 1700s and has long been a favorite destination for tourists, was the hardest hit. Officials are describing the destruction as apocalyptic and comparing it to the Camp Fire, which devastated Paradise, Calif., and killed 85 people in 2018.

Local 1463 members, supported by other agencies, continue to fight other fires in western Maui and on the Big Island. Fire fighters are inching the fires closer to containment but are being challenged by insufficient resources.

“Low staffing, which has been a challenge for us for some time, is hindering our ability to properly respond to a disaster of this magnitude,” said Lee, who is also the president of Local 1463. “And because we are a group of islands, we cannot expect mutual aid to arrive quickly. We are all we have.”

President Joe Biden ordered all available federal assets to help with the response. He said the Hawaii National Guard had mobilized helicopters to help with fire suppression as well as search-and-rescue efforts.

Meanwhile, the state government is preparing the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu and other large-capacity buildings to take in the thousands who have been displaced.