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Pennsylvania’s Task Force 1 members deployed to Maui amid wildfires

Wildfire wreckage is shown Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Rick Bowmer
Wildfire wreckage is shown Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Two members of Pennsylvania’s Task Force One have been deployed to Maui to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue task force.

For more than a week, Maui has been enduring devastating wildfires, which now rank among the deadliest in United States history. Close to 100 people are dead and more than 1,000 are missing as of Tuesday.

The members will help with administrative operations. One will operate as a planning section chief, and the other will work with the incident support team leader to negotiate things such as rules of engagement. Their deployment is expected to last around two weeks, according to a news release.

“Pennsylvania is exceptionally proud to have these two Task Force members deploying to play a part in assisting with coordinated recovery efforts in Hawaii,” said Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Both are part of the incident support team.

“The IST or the Incident Support Team, which the Pennsylvania folks are on, oversee the teams that are working on the ground,” Capt. Ken Pagurek, program manager for Task Force 1, said. “They would develop any incident action plans for the following day’s work.”

The team’s role is to meet, integrate and formulate a plan with first responders, Pagurek said.

The task force is one of 28 teams that make up FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue task force. It was established to provide support to large-scale disasters and has been deployed across the globe to assist in disasters such as the 2011 Japan earthquakes.

“When it gets to the national level, such as this, or Hurricane Ian, or Ida, we have FEMA Urban Search and Rescue that has a very unique set of skills,” Pagurek said. “They’re, you know, top-tier people.”

The Pennsylvania task force is operated by the Philadelphia Fire Department and can be deployed by the Pennsylvania governor and the PEMA director, Pagurek said.

There are no plans to send over additional resources and people, but that could change with FEMA’s request, Pagurek said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro tweeted that he has been in contact with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green.

PEMA is monitoring the situation in Hawaii, and is in contact with their partners at FEMA, who are responsible for coordinating federal relief efforts for those affected by the wildfires, said L. Paul Vezzetti, deputy director of communications for PEMA.

Ben Wasserstein