First Maui victims were loaded into ambulances at least 12 hours before state was notified of deaths

Paramedics started picking up patients in Lahaina with fire-related injuries a little after 3. p.m. on Aug. 8
Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 6:04 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 29, 2023 at 10:59 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Paramedics started picking up patients in Lahaina with fire-related injuries a little after 3. p.m. on Aug. 8 — at least 12 hours before the county notified key state leaders people had died in the disaster, HNN Investigates has confirmed.

The information offers further insight into what was happening behind the fire line the day Lahaina burned — and what emergency officials did or didn’t know as they sought to respond.

Speedy Bailey, regional director in Hawaii for American Medical Response, says calls for help in Lahaina were nonstop from 4 p.m. until about midnight. “Ambulances were working in and amongst moving flames and high gusts of winds, in extreme danger,” Bailey said.

For at least nine hours, Maui’s EMS crews repeatedly crossed fire lines to treat the wounded who were unable to escape on their own. “Fire crews and police crews were bringing patients to triage points where ambulances could take patients to Maui Memorial (Medical Center),” Bailey said.

Maui’s ambulance chief says in addition to the island’s nine ambulances, two more had been placed on standby that day ahead of wind warnings forecast in advance of Hurricane Dora passing south of the state. He says those rigs were mobilized about 3 p.m. on Aug. 8.

Special Section: Maui Wildfires

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this, to be frank,” Bailey said. “Just the conditions that they had to deal with.” He added that paramedics and EMTs worked in the face of fast-moving flames that changed direction without warning and smoke so thick it blacked out the sun.

“Communications were challenged. Cell phones down. Radio complications,” he said.


As for the people being pulled out of the disaster zone, “we saw some burn patients that we don’t see that kind of condition generally. There were multiple times when ambulances were transporting two patients, at least, in an ambulance,” Bailey said.

He says medics rushed a total 32 people to the hospital with fire-related injuries. Eight were subsequently airlifted to Oahu and at least one has died.

Officials at Maui Memorial Medical Center told Hawaii News Now that Maui County’s Emergency Management Agency is in charge of coordinating communication between agencies.

“When one responding agency learns of a catastrophic event, it is the protocol to notify MEMA in order to activate any other needed agencies and resources to respond,” the hospital said.

When asked who made that notification, a spokesperson responded that the hospital’s emergency management team “had already been in constant communication with the county since earlier that morning about the upcountry fire situation.”

The disconnect appears to have been between the county and the state.

HNN Investigates has confirmed that critical information about injuries and fatalities in the disaster didn’t make it to the director of the state’s emergency management agency until the day after Lahaina was leveled. “I thought everyone had gotten out safely. It wasn’t until probably the next day I started hearing about fatalities,” Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara told HNN on Aug. 23.

Meanwhile, the Bissen administration still won’t say who was calling the shots that day while the head of Maui’s emergency Management Agency was off island attending a FEMA conference.

Looking back, Bailey says he commends his ambulance crews, along with the other first responders who risked their lives. He says they did everything they could. “They don’t like to be called heroes,” Bailey said. “But they were heroic. And they did awesome, amazing work.”

While none of the ambulance crews working were hurt on-duty, one of their team members is still among the missing. Several others lost their homes.