Some specialist equipment will take years to replace due to supply chain issues.

Maui’s fire department estimates it has spent $2.7 million to replace damaged gear and replenish its inventory of equipment and firefighting materials four months after the wildfires.

Procurement documents revealed the department spent over $400,000 to replace contaminated clothing, fire-damaged gear and replenish fire suppressant materials within days of the wildfires.

“Fires like this are expensive, and they create additional work as we have to replace and account for equipment,” according to Jeffrey Giesea, the assistant chief for support services for Maui County’s fire department.

Lahaina fire - Olinda Fire Daily Fire Watch, Sept. 6, 2023, photographs. (Courtesy of the DLNR)
Clothing contaminated by fire-suppressing chemicals and toxic debris have to be discarded. (Courtesy of DLNR)

A final cost estimate was unavailable, but Giesea believes most of the expenditures not covered by insurance will be picked up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He said that while the fire has created an equipment gap, the large recent orders do not mean the department lacked sufficient equipment for Aug. 8.

“We have trouble like everybody else getting things as fast as we want,” Giesea said. “But the Maui fire department has some of the best equipment of any fire department in the country really. And we don’t suffer from perennial shortages of the things we need to provide the services we’re expected to provide.”

Procurement request records obtained through a public records request show the department spent over $400,000 after the events on:

  • 400 pairs of brush shirts and pants
  • 200 pairs of boots
  • 1,920 gallons of firefighting foam
  • 40 fire hoses 100 feet in length
  • 60 fire hoses 50 feet in length

The department plans to spend close to $1.7 million to replace a destroyed fire engine and a wildland truck. They may take years to be replaced due to supply chain delays.

Meanwhile, a Bay Area fire department donated an engine to the county in November.

In addition, the department is requesting replacement radios and oxygen air packs worn during firefighting. It also is renting heavy equipment, like bulldozers and water trucks.

The department has also spent $192,000 for 159 hours of helicopter rentals through a pre-existing agreement Windward Aviation. While MFD doesn’t own its own aircraft, it has a special agreement to use a designated aircraft — Air 1 — and other backup helicopters depending on the need.

However, Giesea said no helicopters were used on Aug. 8 because of the severe winds.

Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, said he was not surprised the department was replacing so much gear and equipment.

“When you have that kind of destruction, that level of conflagration, and it goes through all kinds of different types of buildings. The hazardous materials are really fierce that our firefighters have got to deal with,” Lee said. “There are some materials that are not recommended for trying to clean, and you just have to throw away.”

A helicopter carries a bucket of water up to the gulches surrounding the town of Kula on Maui. The fire department does not own a helicopter and rents one when required from Windward Aviation. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

He compared the fire’s toxicity to the debris generated from the Sept. 11 attacks.

Most firefighting PPE has a 10-year shelf life from the date of manufacture, according to Lee. The standard is imposed by the National Fire Protection Association, and it means fire departments can’t overstock because seldom-used items could hit their expiration date.

Lee said procurement has long been a problem for Hawaii, made worse by supply chain shortages from the pandemic and fire trucks are the hardest items to obtain.

Before the pandemic, a truck took a year to manufacture as per the design needs of a specific department. Lee now estimates it takes three to five years.

“Procurement has been very frustrating, to say the least,” Lee said. “They talk about the supply shortage and we feel it even more in a way. Our trucks are one of the biggest problems for us.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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