They ran toward a 7-alarm blaze. The memories still haunt them

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 100 firefighters from across the island responded to the massive, seven-alarm Marco Polo blaze.

Fire officials say the heat from the blaze exceeded what even the most seasoned firefighters knew as "hot."

"To feel that you have all your equipment on correctly, and you feel like you're burning when your brain is telling you you're not, that it's so hot that you're physically turned away, that was the difference with this fire," said Honolulu Fire Capt. Scott Seguirant.

Seguirant, who was stationed at the Aikahi Fire Station at the time, says he'll never forget the look on everyone's face when he arrived on scene.

"You see a bunch of your brothers and sisters that you know, that you grew up in the fire department with, and you see a look of concern that you normally don't see," he said.

Saturday marks one year since the fire, considered the largest apartment blaze in modern Hawaii history. The fire left four people killed and hundreds of units damaged.

Seguirant said by the time fire crews got there, the fire that started on the 26th floor was well developed and growing.

"Late notification was a challenge. It had already built up a big head of steam and was actively moving," Seguirant said.

Because the elevators were initially not working, first responders had to climb at least 24 flights of stairs to fight the fire and help residents.

EMS paramedic supervisor Laura Kumamoto remembers the nerves and adrenaline during the hike up.

"Just knowing we were getting closer, getting closer, getting closer. I think that adrenaline is what gave us the extra 'umph' to get up that stairwell. Once we got into that area, and realizing we're in the building, was something I never experienced," Kumamoto said.

The blaze was declared under control around 7 p.m. and extinguished by midnight.

But for most first responders, it was right back to work responding to other calls.

"Being able to change my clothes, wash my hair, that was my time to decompress. It took a while to wind down and think about everything that happened, but the next morning you have to get up and you have to go and serve your community," Kumamoto said.

Phil Reller, who lost both his mother and brother in the fire, says he's grateful for all that first responders do to protect their communities.

He says he was deeply touched by one firefighter he met at the scene after receiving the devastating news.

"He runs up to me, the firefighter, sweating and smoky, throws his arms around me, says he sorry," said Reller.

"He came to my house two days later. He said, 'I really couldn't sleep very well, I just want you to know our support.' He gets off his motorcycle runs up to me and throws his arms around me. That's who these first responders are."

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.