Kauai firefighters receive national recognition for massive overnight rescue

L-R: Battalion Chief Jason Ornellas, Firefighter III Bryan Doo, Capt. Gordon Tamura, Fire Chief Westerman, Firefighter II Aaron Hawthorne, Firefighter II Adam Hussey, Air 1 Rescue pilot Clifton Cates and Deputy Fire Chief John Blalock accept the 2014 IAFC Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor. (Photo: Kauai Fire Department)
L-R: Battalion Chief Jason Ornellas, Firefighter III Bryan Doo, Capt. Gordon Tamura, Fire Chief Westerman, Firefighter II Aaron Hawthorne, Firefighter II Adam Hussey, Air 1 Rescue pilot Clifton Cates and Deputy Fire Chief John Blalock accept the 2014 IAFC Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor. (Photo: Kauai Fire Department)

Several Kauai Fire Department employees received national recognition for rescuing more than a hundred stranded hikers out of Kalalau Valley.

Captain Gordon Tamura, Firefighter III Bryan Doo, Firefighter II Aaron Hawthorne, Firefighter II Adam Hussey and Air 1 rescue pilot Clifton Cates were awarded the 2014 International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor at an annual conference in Dallas, Texas.

They were nominated for the honor by one of the 121 hikers rescued during the two-day operation.

The rescue mission began the evening of Sunday, April 6, when hikers in the Kalalau Valley became stranded after raging waters had made the Hanakapiai Stream unsafe to cross. Dozens of hikers were rescued that evening, but nightfall forced the crew to resume the mission the next morning.

Two of the firefighters stayed in the valley overnight with the rest of the stranded hikers, enduring wet and windy conditions. The stream remained impassable the next morning, forcing the rescue crew to airlift each hiker out of the valley, two to three at a time, via the county’s Air 1 rescue helicopter.

The department’s Rescue 3 crew is specially trained in land and water searches, rescues and recovery. Rescue 3 has completed over 150 air rescues this year, in some of the most remote and dangerous locations across the island.

“It is an honor to lead a department with such high caliber employees,” said Fire Chief Robert Westerman. “This crew is exemplary, and this award is a tribute to all the men and women of the Kauai Fire Department and Ocean Safety Bureau who save lives literally every day.” Westerman was awarded the Ben Franklin Leadership Award.

The honor comes after Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr., the County of Kauai Fire Commission and Wanda Shibata, on behalf Governor Neil Abercrombie, presented the crew with a proclamation, a resolution of commendation and certificates of recognition at last month’s Fire Commission meeting.

“Our firefighters, in particularly our rescue team, risk their lives every day to save the lives of others and rarely are they recognized for their heroism,” said Carvalho. “It is wonderful that they can be recognized in front of their peers from around the world for the incredible work they do. I stand with our entire county in expressing our pride and gratitude to this courageous team for their dedication and sacrifice.”

This is the Kauai Fire Department’s second Ben Franklin Fire Service Award.

In 2010, a Rescue 3 crew, under the direction of Rescue Captain Charles Metivier, was presented the award for battling unfavorable weather and unforgiving terrain to save the lives of two men who had been involved in an ultra-light crash in Hanapepe Valley on August 1, 2009.

The Benjamin Franklin award is the IAFC’s most prestigious award, which honors firefighters for their expert training, professional service and dedication to the duty displayed in saving a human life.

Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., the County of Kauai Fire Commission and Wanda Shibata, on behalf Governor Neil Abercrombie, presented the crew with a proclamation, a resolution of commendation and certificates of recognition. (Photo: Kauai Fire Department)
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., the County of Kauai Fire Commission and Wanda Shibata, on behalf Governor Neil Abercrombie, presented the crew with a proclamation, a resolution of commendation and certificates of recognition. (Photo: Kauai Fire Department)
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