Fire chief presents After-Action Report on Maui wildfires; recommends more stations, equipment

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County of Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura and department leaders released the Department of Fire and Public Safety’s After-Action Report on the August 2023 Maui wildfires on Tuesday. 

“It’s important to remember that on Aug. 8, we experienced not just the worst fire in state history—we experienced the two worst fires in state history—occurring at the same time on the same island. And those were happening along with two other major fires, each of which, on their own, would have been newsworthy events,” said Jeffrey Giesea, Assistant Chief for Support Services at the Maui Fire Department.

The document, produced by the Western Fire Chiefs Association, covers all four major fires that began on Aug. 8, 2023. The document covers a time span that includes the pertinent conditions on Aug. 7, along with events and actions from Aug. 8-11, 2023, when the bulk of emergency response activity took place.

“In the fire service we don’t deliver perfection, but we do pursue it relentlessly,” said Chief Ventura. “Likewise, the After-Action Report (AAR) has 17 challenge areas identified and provides recommendations to strengthen our department.”

Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura releases details of the department’s After-Action Report relating to the four Maui wildfires that occurred on Aug. 8, 2023. (4.16.24 – Kula, Maui) PC: Wendy Osher

Improvements outlined

Some areas identified for improvement as outlined by the chief include: (1) fully stock relief apparatus, (2) create a statewide mutual aid program, (3) create a communication plan to evacuate visitors and residents who speak different languages. Some recommendations that appear in the document that the department has already taken action on include: (1) preposition personnel and vehicles during red flag warnings, (2) enhance the department’s ready-set-go communications and messaging with the public, (3) increase use of technology within the department, (4) conduct facility assessments on fire stations, (5) provide adequate power generation during large disasters, (6) request an update on Community Wildfire Protection Plans through the help of the Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management organization, (7) conduct meetings with First Responder Network Authority to do an island specific analysis of the cell systems here, and (8) increased training in the department’s command and control program.


Some recommendations that will be addressed the department’s FY2025 budget include: (1) increase vehicle apparatus inventory, (2) request for additional fire stations, (3) request additional water tankers or tenders, (4) request for additional firefighters at various locations to include positions in the department’s command and control area.

Lack of apparatus, need for more stations

With significant requests for apparatus, personnel and fire stations, Maui Now asked Chief Ventura what the timeline for acquisition would be and where funding would come from. “Our apparatus take approximately four years to deliver to Maui at this point. It’s something that we’ve been dealing with for years. It’s been progressively getting worse through COVID. And so, we’ve been very proactive in ordering things every year,” he said.

Apparatus that arrived this year for Kula and Lānaʻi were ordered back in 2021. “As far as funding goes, we recognize that our department is always an ask for funding and it’s up to the powers that be to balance the budget and to find a way to afford the fire service that our community is requesting of us to deliver.”

“We have a finite amount of vehicles and resources on this island,” said Chief Ventura when asked about his thoughts on utilizing personnel from other islands. “We were able to overstaff every single one of them every day for a month; however, when we did get personnel in from other islands, we utilized them in areas that lesser apparatus or no apparatus were needed. So getting people to Maui on Aug. 8 wasn’t the problem. We had enough firefighters ready and able to work. It was the amount of apparatus that we had available.”

The report “does recognize that due to our landscape, our terrain, our multi-island community, the size of our population, that we do need more equipment,” said Chief Ventura, noting that on Aug. 8 the department had seven relief apparatus.


“As a fire chief, we are happy to have a fire station on every corner, but we know we come at a cost. We know that there is an expense to the community and the community cannot afford that. So in all fairness, we have to open our stations strategically, not only in location, but in how many resources we put at each station. So our goals moving forward are to work with the Haʻikū community to continue moving that project forward because that project has been in the works since 2007; and then we’re working with a public-private partnership in Olowalu to hopefully get a fire station in that area. Then we’re working with council and the mayor’s office as Wailuku is our busiest district right now, to bifurcate Wailuku and Kahului into three districts, as it is only two right now,” said Chief Ventura.

The chief said there’s no perfect number or formula of how many firefighters are needed, but said the department has fallen behind in terms of the call volume tripling since 2003 when the Wailea Station opened.

Would more water have made a difference?

When asked if the firefighters ran out of water on Aug. 8 and what difference it would have made if water were available, Chief Ventura said: “I can’t speak to the system. It’s not our system. We’re an end user of the water system as all of you are, so I don’t know the exact reasons for all the failures. We’re working with the water department to identify ways to make it more resilient and to more forward. Had we had all the water in the pipes that day, it’s been shared with us by companies in areas like Cal Fire that it would not have made an extreme difference in the fire that we fought that day, due to the weather and the conditions that we were facing.”

Cause and origin still under investigation by ATF

The AAR covers preparation for, response to and recovery from the fires, and focuses on lessons learned and recommendations for future response. It does not include the cause and origin of the Lahaina fire, details of which are still under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Jeffrey Giesea, Assistant Chief for Support Services at the Maui Fire Department. (4.16.24 – Kula, Maui) PC: Wendy Osher

“Once ATF completes their investigation, their investigative report will be attached as an appendix in its whole and entirety to our fire investigation report, and we will put out our cause and origin once that’s complete,” said Chief Ventura during a press conference held Tuesday morning at the Kula Fire Station. He said there is no distinct date provided for when the report will be available, but noted that the ATF has made it a priority item given the scope of the disaster.


The AAR comes a day ahead of the release of the attorney generalʻs Phase One report on findings from the Maui Wildfire investigation.  Wednesdayʻs AG report from the Fire Safety Research Institute and Attorney General Anne Lopez will include a comprehensive timeline of the Maui fire response, from Aug. 8-9, 2023, and its aftermath.

Giesea said the department contracted a third party to compile the AAR report to ensure objectivity and neutrality given the unprecedented degree of media attention, and efforts to avoid accusations of bias. The report also allowed for expertise from personnel on the outside to provide recommendations that might have escaped coverage had the report been conducted internally. Given the size and scope of the incident, and the post-disaster work load, the department did not have enough hours or personnel available to conduct the report with the thoroughness provided by the Western Fire Chiefs Association, according to Giesea.

200 interviews conducted, 32 observations with reccommendations

According to Giesea the WFCA reviewed “copious” documents, conducted interviews with more than 200 personnel from the Maui fire and police departments, the Maui Emergency Management Agency, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Cal Fire, the Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization, the University of Hawaiʻi, American Medical Response, and several private partners who assist the Fire department with emergency response efforts.

The report includes information on the structure of the fire department, discussion of factors that contributed to the disaster, a sequence of events that occurred during the incident, and an overview of post incident efforts. The report also includes a set of challenges, observations and recommendations to guide progression of the fire department in the future.

The observations and recommendations are divided into four broad categories: (1) preparation, (2) mitigation, (3) response, and (4) recovery. Within those categories, there are 32 highlighted observations, each with a subset of specific recommendations.

“Many of these were already well underway towards achieving. Others may take considerably more time and resources,” said Giesea.


“On that daunting day, hundreds of people were rescued, as it was an all-hands-on-deck effort for our department and our community,” said Chief Ventura.

According to Ventura, regular staffing for Upcountry is 8-10 personnel. On Aug. 8, the department peaked at 39 personnel in Upcountry. Regular staffing for West Maui is 14-17 personnel. During the morning hours of Aug. 8, there were 28 personnel already working in the area, and by the evening there were 54 firefighters assigned to the West Side.

During the morning fire in Lahaina on Aug. 8, there were “20-something” fire personnel on scene. The main engine and tanker company from the area remained on scene all morning, working with private dozers and tenders to put a containment line around the fire. According to Chief Ventura, they remained on scene “well over five hours” after the fire was contained.

When the 911 call came through in the afternoon, the company that was assigned to the Lahaina fire that morning had gone back to the station. According to the chief, Engine 11 was there five minutes before the afternoon fire had started, and observed no smoke or flames in the area.

Heroism, continued response

Ventura listed acts of heroism that occurred on Aug. 8, including an Ocean Safety officer who was off duty and drove his moped into the fire multiple times to rescue people.

“There were firefighters fighting the fires in Lahaina as they well knew their homes were burning down at that very moment,” said Chief Ventura. “There were firefighters who rescued people and kept them within their apparatus for several hours while they continued to evacuate others, get them to safety, and fight the fire at the same time.”

There were also firefighters that could not find available apparatus because all of equipment was in use. “They chose to stage their personal vehicles outside of the fire area and hike and run up to the fire and evacuate our kupuna from condos… While I’m incredibly proud of our department’s response, I believe we can always continue to improve our efforts,” said Chief Ventura. “I would like to reaffirm our commitment in our pursuit of excellence to serving our community.”

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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