Four firefighters and a pilot with the Kaua‘i Fire Department’s Rescue 3 crew were awarded the 2014 International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)/Motorola Solutions’ Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor, and Fire Chief Robert Westerman was awarded the Ben Franklin Leadership Award, at the annual Fire-Rescue International conference held in Dallas, TX last week.
“It is an honor to lead a department with such high caliber employees,” stated Fire Chief Westerman. “This crew is exemplary, and this award is a tribute to all the men and women of the Kaua‘i Fire Department and Ocean Safety Bureau who save lives literally every day.”
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.
Captain Gordon Tamura, Firefighter III Bryan Doo, Firefighter II Aaron Hawthorne, Firefighter II Adam Hussey, and Air 1 rescue pilot Clifton Cates were nominated for the honor by one of the hikers they rescued during a two-day operation earlier this year.
The rescue mission began the evening of Sunday, April 6, when hikers in the Kalalau Valley became stranded after raging waters had made the Hanakāpī‘ai 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. By Monday afternoon, the Rescue team has successfully rescued a total of 121 stranded hikers from the Kalalau Valley.
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.
In addition to the last week’s recognition, Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr., the County of Kaua‘i Fire Commission and Wanda Shibata, on behalf Governor Neil Abercrombie, presented the crew with a proclamation, a resolution of commendation, and certificates of recognition for their valiant effort 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,” stated Mayor 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.”
Chief Westerman added, “As the crew walked around the conference, complete strangers would stop to congratulate them on a job very well done. Kaua‘i was recognized as having the best firefighters in the nation, and we owe this recognition to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of our department.”
This is the Kaua‘i 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 Hanapēpē Valley on August 1, 2009.