Maui Fire Chief Says Last Day on the Job is “Bittersweet”
Maui Fire Chief David Thyne spends his last day on the job today after a 33-year career.
Chief Thyne rose through the ranks from firefighter to Fire Captain, Battalion Chief and Assistant Chief before taking over as Fire Chief on Aug. 28, 2018.
Highlights of his career have included work building the department’s training program with a Cadre System, leading the department in producing its first version of Standard Operating Guidelines, and contributing toward the creation of the department’s Incident Management Team, according to county officials.
“He expanded the department’s training program and cadre system to develop training that has existed in 17 different disciplines within the department itself,” said Mayor Michael Victorino. “He’s done a lot of good work in making the department a professional, service oriented, well-grooved department.”
While today is his last day in the office, Chief Thyne officially retires on July 1, 2021.
“It’s bittersweet. After almost 34 years, leaving the fire station for the last time is going to be difficult,” said Chief Thyne. During a press briefing on Tuesday, he said the hardest part of leaving will be the people. “The relationships, the conversations, the working together to solve issues and problems–whether it be at the fire station company level or all the way up to this level as a chief officer and working with other administrators.”
In a phone interview with Maui Now, Chief Thyne said when the previous administration retired, he felt it was important to bridge the next generation of leadership and get the department on a good footing for the future. As an Assistant Chief, Thyne said he was able to build lots of relationships with the county and share lessons learned as he stepped into the role as Chief three years ago.
Thyne joined the department on Sept. 16, 1987 when he was a part of the first fire recruit class.
He was promoted to driver and was later assigned to the Training Bureau in 1994; then promoted to Captain of the Kīhei Fire Station in 2002, and transferred to the Pāʻia Fire Station in 2005. Thyne then became Battalion Chief in 2008, followed by Assistant Chief of Support Services in 2009. In 2014, he served as Assistant Chief of Operations, and culminated in the highest rank of Fire Chief in 2018.
In his retirement, Chief Thyne said he plans to fix up a property he purchased several years ago in Peʻahi, spend time with his grand kids, and will continue to work with a team in the Pacific North West to manage large fires on the mainland–a volunteer effort he had taken on since 2013.
In addition to family time, Chief Thyne said he helped to start the nonprofit 501c3 Maui Fire Foundation. The organization was formed to help bring a neutral platform to receive grant funding to the department, similar to what the Hawaiʻi Professional Firefighters Association does on Oʻahu.
“Cathy and I have worked our whole lives,” said Chief Thyne. “For me the timing was right. I now stayed for 34 years. That’s two years over the highest retirement, which is 32 years in the system. It’s given me the opportunity to share knowledge working as an administration with future leaders. My goal was to share those lessons of how to do the budget so the next chief has a good start.”
“Our fire department has fought many major brush fires throughout this county,” said Mayor Victorino. “In my first year here (as mayor), I had ample experience with 26,000 acres burning–whether it was Upcountry, West Maui, South Maui, you name it, anywhere in Maui, and Molokaʻi was included during that time–we fought fires. One of the things I’ve always admired was Chief was there on the front line with his Battalion Chiefs making sure what needed to be done was being done.”
In 2016, two years before becoming Chief, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company commemorated its final sugar harvest. The transition left fallow fields that created the potential for wildfires.
Around this time of year in 2018, the department battled a 2,500 acre fire in fallow sugar and brush in Pukalani. A year later, in August of 2019, crews battled a 5,300 acre fire also near Pukalani, caused by farm equipment working in the fields near Haleakalā Highway. Also in 2019, a major fire blazed its way through Central Maui, eating up 9,200 acres from Waikapū to Kahului to Puʻunēnē. And in July of 2020, a 4,300 acre fire in Hāli‘imaile came within a half-mile of Skill Village in Pā‘ia.
There’s also been continued growth, including changes to the wildland-urban interface in places like West Maui, factors that the department assesses and needs to train for. “I looked at the future of what services were needed, and tried to stay ahead of the curve as far as growth in our islands,” said Chief Thyne.
In August of 2018, firefighters faced “unprecedented” conditions when battling a rash of fires in West Maui during a hurricane warning.
“Our firefighters cover everything from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the ocean. It’s not just searches–it’s off the grid, on the Commando Trail, in the ocean. We have such a multi-faceted department… and we have to continuously perform at that high level. That is a driver and there’s not a lot of margin for error. We have to stay on top of training and make sure we’re as efficient and effective as we can be,” said Chief Thyne.
When asked if there’s been any challenges during his tenure, Chief Thyne said, “I can’t even think of anything that we struggle with. The mayor’s staff, administration and county council have been nothing but welcoming to us, been giving, provided guidance when we need it. For me, I’m just thankful to be the leader of this department during this time and to contribute to this county because we’re really in a great place collectively.”
“We’ve had a chance to explain and outline our plans and why we go about replacement of apparatus or renovation of stations. Having the ability to communicate and build those relationships has been key to the success of the organization and helped us to provide for a lot of our responders, ” said Chief Thyne.
In terms of budget, Chief Thyne said the department comes up with a list of approximately 100 items ranging from new positions to new vehicles. Not all are granted, but it creates a priority list that the department can work with to address needs.
The current force is a little under 400 personnel, including Ocean Safety. While there’s no shortage, Chief Thyne said there are always vacancies, at times the result of retirements or shifts in personnel. There’s also a hiring class now that is going through physicals and pre-hiring qualifications.
“He has set up a department of 389 firefighters, ocean safety officers and civilian. personnel. He has really left a legacy in a very short period of time of a fire department that is now not only professionally trained, but prepared for everything, including a pandemic like COVID-19,” said Mayor Michael Victorino.
“We all made it through COVID and we’re almost on the other side of that–and that’s huge–that was something nobody globally had any book on or instructional manual,” said Chief Thyne. Through meetings and guidance, and the direction of health leaders, he said, “we were able to adjust our protocols and our response… and thankfully we came out of it relatively unscathed as an agency and as a county.”
“As we rebuild, I think the future looks bright,” said Chief Thyne during a recognition ceremony on Tuesday. “I kind of lost my composure and emotion when I got pinned as Fire Chief. But I promised myself I wouldn’t do that when I leave… so I’m keeping it together. I’ll just say thanks to everybody. I’ll be still contributing every way I can both to our department and to the county.”
Two candidates submitted applications during a first posting for the Maui Fire Chief job in April/May, but the commission decided to extend the deadline through an amended post in a statewide publication.
Deputy Fire Chief Bradford Ventura will serve as acting chief until the Fire and Public Safety Commission has selected a new chief.