SCTFD firefighters back to work following deployment to Hawaii

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From left: Sugar Creek Township Fire Department Chief Brandon Kleine, Lt. Jeff Keithley and Lt. Adam Schock returned to Indiana after being deployed to Maui, Hawaii with the rest of Indiana USAR Task Force #1.

HANCOCK COUNTY — Three members of the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department (SCTFD) who were deployed to Maui, Hawaii with the rest of Indiana USAR Task Force #1 in late August are back to work with their local fire department.

Fire Chief Brandon Kleine, along with Lt. Jeff Keithley and Lt. Adam Schock, returned to Indiana after being in Lahaina, Hawaii for a 12-day deployment. They were gone from Aug. 18 through Aug. 27, with each taking a few days off to recoup after they returned to Indiana.

The Indiana Task Force 1 team, led by Hancock County resident and Indianapolis Fire Department member Jay Settergren, was deployed to assist in search operations after the devastating wildfire there.

 One of the tasks the firefighters took part in was reinforcing structures so crews could safely search for missing people.

The official death toll from the Aug. 8 fire which left the historic town of Lahaina in charred ruins still stands at 115 people — a number unchanged in more than two weeks. Some 66 people remained unaccounted for as workers continued to remove toxic debris from the burn site, a process that could take almost a year, Hawaii Governor Josh Green said late last week.

Kleine told the Daily Reporter that it was a hard deployment but one the Indiana Task Force 1 crews handled well. As the safety officer, Kleine’s job was to make sure all the Indiana crews were in good shape and stayed healthy and well during the deployment. Keithley and Shock took part in search and rescue work.

“Our whole thing was to go over there and assist the people of Hawaii in dealing with that total destruction,” Kleine said. “I’ve never seen anything burned like that in 25 years of fire service.”

Kleine explained how hot the fire must have been, noting there was a great deal of twisted metal, which occurs when the temperature is around 2,500 to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. He also noted it appears the fire was more than likely wind-driven.

“We can’t say for sure that the wind did play part as a fact, but one thing we do know is those poor people lost everything,” Kleine said.

Normally, when firefighters go to cover a fire or work search and rescue, they’ll be able to find some things that did not burn, but Kleine noted that most everything was destroyed by raging fires.

“We didn’t see anything salvageable in most places,” he said. “I feel so very sorry for these people because we’re talking about square miles of nothing being there in places where families used to live.”

As for the task force, Kleine noted that the deployment was a good mission as the group took part in work they normally don’t get to do.

“We searched in a way we had never done before,” Kleine said. “We shored up some areas to make sure they didn’t collapse. The mission gave us a chance to go in and use some of the training we’ve done in the past.”

Indiana Task Force 1 was assigned one main building, an apartment complex, when they arrived, and the team spent multiple days going through that area as well as taking part is some wide-area search work.

“FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is in charge, and there is an anthropology department that will make final determination of all that was found, plus it’s culturally different over there, so we had to be sensitive to what the Hawaiian people wanted and needed,” Kleine said.

Kleine said the hardest thing was not finding much of anything. However, he noted there was a church found standing there while everything around it was burned to the ground.

“It was a sight to see that,” Kleine said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now leading the removal of toxic debris from Lahaina, a clean-up officials said would take the better part of a year and cost about $1 billion.