Bay Area firefighter heads to Maui for search and rescue

Lauren Martinez Image
Friday, August 11, 2023
Bay Area firefighter heads to Maui for search and rescue
A division chief from the Contra Costa County Fire District is among a 30-member team of specialists from around the country heading to Maui.

LAHAINA, Hawaii (KGO) -- Help is on the way to Maui from around the country and here in the Bay Area.

Christopher Landry is the Acting Assistant Chief for the Oakland Fire Department - he also helps process resource requests from FEMA.

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"I'm the acting program manager of the California task force - my job is really to facilitate the requests as they come in," Landry said.

On Thursday Landry helped coordinate and send a 30-member team to Maui.

The incident support team comprises of different specialists from around the country, and one of them is a division chief from the Contra Costa County Fire District.

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Video shows an apocalyptic scene as a group drives through Lahaina, Maui neighborhoods where a wildfire destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.

"They've also asked for 'mission ready packages' for k-9s. Those are HRD dogs, which are unfortunately human remain dogs as well as live finding dogs as they're searching neighborhoods to see if anyone is trapped and inside any of these homes," Landry said.

The massive disaster response for the Lahaina wildfires is very familiar to Harold Schapelhauman.

The retired chief of the Menlo Fire District was also a member of the National Urban Search and Rescue program under FEMA, which is being deployed to Maui now.

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"It's about working together to solve the problem and helping them understand your capabilities and what you can do for them and then doing it. Talk to the locals, gain their trust, understand their needs, massage the relationship, be humble," Schapelhauman said.

Schapelhauman has 40 years of experience responding to catastrophes. He said the good thing about bringing in outside help is - it's not personal. But he says search, rescue and recovery teams must respect the fact that to the locals on the island, it's personal to them.

"Oklahoma City bombing, World Trade Center, Spaceship of Columbia, every one of those we would locate the remains, and every one of those the locals wanted to do the recovery," Schapelhauman said.

Air operations from the National Guard, Navy, and Army are responding to Maui.

RELATED: Man records Maui destruction, comes across historic Banyan tree still standing

"We did a lot of that work in Katrina eventually when they finally got there using air-ops because you can take a part of a group, a team and move them into an area and then pick them up," Schapelhauman said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said 57 people have been rescued and there have been no reports of missing persons in the water.

"Disasters are terrible, but the part that I always thought wasn't terrible when I was part of one was the great people I met, all the really similarly minded people that I met and really the compassionate people that I met," Schapelhauman said.

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