As California’s lead emergency management agency, the California’s Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) responds to a variety of disasters state and nationwide, including major wildfires.
In August of this year, and similar to the Camp Fire of 2018 that burned through Butte County rapidly and unexpectedly, the small community of Lahaina on the Hawaiian Island of Maui experienced a major wildfire that broke out in the early morning hours.
With decades of experience battling major wildfires across California, Cal OES deployed two Assistant Fire Chiefs to help aid in the recovery. Assistant Chief Mark Courson was assigned to Hawaii’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Honolulu and Assistant Chief Tony Rouhotas worked on the ground with first responders in Lahaina.
With many years working with local and federal partners, Chief Courson was able to provide expertise on coordinating within this EOC, in particular, explaining processes and providing guidance for future disasters.
“You feel good when you do good for people. You want to support them in any way you can. It feels good to help them accomplish something when they’re going through a lot,” Courson said.
Chief Rouhotas has dealt with many disasters over his career but none with the amount of devastation concentrated on one area like Lahaina.
Sharing from previous experiences and providing assistance and resources to a community not used to major wildfires, Chief Rouhotas was able to help local first responders take the necessary steps toward recovery.
“We were happy to offer assistance in any way we could,” Rouhotas said. “It was truly humbling to be part of the overall mission and we wish them the best in their rebuilding efforts of the town and more importantly, their lives.”
Utilizing an inter-state mutual aid system known as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), the Cal OES Fire Chiefs offered assistance and shared best practices from previous disaster response.
Through EMAC, moving resources throughout the country is pivotal to effective disaster response.
In 2022, California sent Specialized Urban Search and Rescue Resources teams to Florida, firefighters to Oregon, firefighters and disaster recovery experts to New Mexico and also sent firefighters and a public information specialist to Montana. In 2021, California sent fire engines to Oregon to suppress the Bootleg Fire and Specialized Urban Search and Rescue Resources teams to Florida to assist in the Surfside tower collapse.
In response to the recent 2023 storms, California received EMAC assistance during recovery efforts from Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.