Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include two MCFRS canine handlers that have travelled to Hawaii to help with search and rescue efforts.
A Montgomery County firefighter and two canine handlers travelled to Hawaii to aid the Federal Emergency Management Agency with its search and rescue efforts amid the Maui wildfires.
The communications specialist, whose name has not been released, will assist with technological communications in the wake of the wildfires, which have killed 55 people and destroyed the historic town of Lahaina in Maui.
The firefighter is part of Montgomery County’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, known as Maryland Task Force 1, one of 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces around the United States. The task force has personnel who can be deployed at any time for emergency relief, according to MCFRS’ website.
The Maryland task force has responded to many “natural and man-made disasters” over the past 30 years, including 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina in 1999 according to the site.
On Sunday FEMA activated two MCFRS FEMA canine handler teams to Maui, according to a post on X, formerly named Twitter, by David Pazos, acting public information officer for the agency.
Alan Rossi with his dog Phirst and John Gilkey with his dog Piper were anticipated tp arrive in Hawaii late Sunday, Pazos posted.
MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer announced Thursday that FEMA “requested, authorized and activated” deployment of personnel to staff the Incident Support Team in Maui County, Hawaii.
Piringer said that approximately 35 specialists from nearly two dozen Urban Search and Rescues teams would support the ongoing wildfire search and rescue operations. These task forces hail from localities such as Fairfax County and Virginia Beach, Virginia; New York City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Miami, according to FEMA’s website.
The wildfires prompted President Joe Biden on Thursday to declare a state of emergency in Hawaii, which orders federal resources to come to the aid of local and state efforts.
In an interview with the Today show on Friday morning, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said the number of deaths attributable to the fire could go up in the coming days as search and rescue efforts expand.
“Fifty-five was the number that they found of people who were outside the buildings. We have not yet searched in the interior of the buildings,” Bissen said. “We’re waiting for FEMA to help with that search.”
Many people do not have water, power, internet or communication methods, and thousands have had to evacuate their homes and stay in shelters this week, according to Bissen.
Bissen said he hopes that in the coming days, missing persons will be located, and families will be reunited.
“We’re going to take full advantage of the help we’ve been offered,” Bissen said in the press conference.