In the early morning hours of Friday, Aug. 24, a brush fire broke out in Lahaina—just as a hurricane was hurtling toward Hawaii. On the heels of a blaze that had burned close to 30 acres near Maalaea, firefighters arrived on the scene to battle the wind-whipped Lahaina fire, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents and ultimately scorched more than 2,000 acres and destroyed 21 structures. Then, around 7:30 a.m., another fast-moving fire was reported in Kaanapali; it consumed 800 acres and led to the evacuation of more homes.
In the span of 10 hours, firefighters battled three brush fires from Maalaea to Kaanapali. To say the West Maui community is forever indebted to those brave firefighters would be an understatement.
Lahainaluna High School Foundation acknowledged the courageous efforts of the Maui Fire Department (MFD) last November during the sixth annual Legends of Lahainaluna Awards Ceremony. The Legends of Lahainaluna Award was created to honor individuals and businesses—aka, “Legends”—who have contributed to the success of Lahainaluna High School and made a lasting difference in the community. “Past and present honorees have all personified the values that we aim to live by, including loina (tradition), hoihi (respect), ho‘oha‘ahea (honor), kupaa (dedication), pio ole (commitment), and kaiaulu (community),” explained Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) member and Lahainaluna High School Foundation board member and past president Rob Shelton. The 2018 Legends of Lahainaluna honorees were recognized in four categories: individual, individual-alumni, business, and posthumous; MFD was the recipient of the business award. The Lahaina fire had come perilously close to the Lahainaluna High School campus—incredibly, only a portion of the school’s track and a baseball practice field were affected. “Many of our local firefighters are Lahainaluna graduates and they were absolutely determined to spare our school from the fires fueled by the Kaua‘ula winds,” Shelton said.
Among the firefighters seated in the audience at the awards ceremony was West Maui Land Company Realtor-Salesperson, Kamuela Guth, a 10-year veteran of the fire department and a 2003 graduate of Lahainaluna High School. “Chief Amos Lonokailua-Hewett, our battalion chief on duty the night of the Lahaina fire, spoke on behalf of the MFD,” Guth said. “It was an honor to be recognized as a department.”
Like a lot of kids, Guth wanted to be a firefighter when he grew up. And he was determined to make his boyhood dream a reality: After high school, he pursued a degree in fire science, and not long after, became a member of the MFD’s 26th Fire Recruit Class. Over the years, he’s risen through the ranks. Most recently, Guth was promoted to firefighter III and assigned to the fire department’s training bureau; he is an instructor in several training programs, including fire ground operations, rescue water craft and fire apparatus driver operator program aerial. “The job is dynamic…every day brings new opportunities and different challenges,” he said. “I enjoy applying new techniques to problem-solve and help others.”
Guth was on duty when the Lahaina fire broke out, but wasn’t actively engaged with the initial fire fight. “We were assigned to take care of logistics,” he said. Among other things, Guth’s crew dropped off water, Gatorade and air bottles to the firefighters who were actively engaged. Around 6 a.m., his crew was rotated into the fight—until fire officials learned of the third blaze in Kaanapali. “We were assigned to that area to fight fire and protect homes,” Guth said.
Like his fellow firefighters, Guth is proud of MFD and the work it does 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “The Maui Fire Department is one of the most progressive organizations in the State of Hawaii,” Guth said. “The firefighters that I work with are passionate about their community and their careers.”
Firefighting is a tough job, but even so, Guth says it’s intensely gratifying. “I enjoy helping and being involved in my community,” he said. “When you’re born and raised in Lahaina, you know most of the families. Growing up in a small community, the closeness inspires you to want to help others and be involved in the success of your town. Helping others in their time of need is the most rewarding part of my job.”