In response to the Aug. 8 Hawai’i Wildfires, a fuel team from the 25th Infantry Division stepped in to fill a critical need for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' temporary power mission on Maui.
At the request of the Corps, the 25th ID, located on Oahu, provided a team of soldiers and two Heavy Expandable Mobile Tactical Trucks to fuel temporary generators which are providing support to water wells and other critical public facilities in Lāhainā since the wildfires began.
“The fueler is offloading between 300 to 600 gallons of diesel fuel daily,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Maksym Zymin, Temporary Power Team Commander “They’re an additional asset that provides redundancy and efficiency for the contractor’s fueling operations.
When combined with the skills of soldiers who are operating and maintaining them, they are a “response multiplier” for the USACE temporary power team.
The fuel trucks can hold and transport up to 2,500 gallons of fuel. Zymin said that deploying the fuel trucks closer to the deployed generators has reduced refuel runs by 40 miles and reduced risk.
“As safety is one of the primary considerations of the mission, driving fewer miles minimize the risk of an accident and potential fuel spill,” Zymin said.
Donald Schlack, temporary power team subject matter expert from the USACE Honolulu District, said the generators keep critical infrastructure operating, enabling water and power companies to work on repairs.
“While we’re providing power to critical infrastructure and municipal buildings with the generators, it’s one less thing the electric and water companies must think about while they’re dealing with the recovery,” said Schlack. “It lets them focus on restoring electricity and water for the larger population.”
The soldiers operating and maintaining the fuel trucks come from all over the world and are comprised of petroleum supply specialists, wheeled vehicle mechanics and chemical refueler repairers.
Sgt. 1st Class Lanilua Pine is leading the unit as they do their part to support recovery efforts.
Pine said she feels a close connection with the people of Hawai'i. On the way to retrieve the fuel trucks each day, they pass through areas directly affected by the wildfires.
“This really hits home,” said Pine. “It’s personal. It’s family. We can make a difference in how we help people, and we want to help.”
While more than 50,000 fans and alumni gathered at Mississippi State University’s Davis Wade Stadium to cheer the Bulldogs for their college football season opener against Southeastern Louisiana State University, Sept. 2, two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District employees who are Mississippi State alumni were cheering them on in spirit while supporting emergency response efforts to the recent Hawai'i wildfires.
Brittany Keyes, a mission specialist with the Honolulu District Power Planning and Response Team, is from Laurel, Mississippi, and a 2013 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at Mississippi State. Jon Runnels, a quality assurance specialist and logistician, is from Pass Christian, Mississippi, and is a 2015 graduate of the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State. Runnels works as a project engineer for the Honolulu District Construction Branch.
USACE’s Power Planning and Response Teams oversee the installation, maintenance and overall management of Federal Emergency Management Agency generators that provide temporary emergency power to critical infrastructure, critical care facilities and municipal buildings for Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignments.
Keyes is responsible for personnel accountability, documenting the team’s mission-related actions and contractor performance. When she is not participating in emergency response missions, Keyes serves as a management and program analyst at the Honolulu District. She joined the Power PRT to share a piece of the kindness she said she has experienced at her alma mater.
“Many times, I’ve witnessed Mississippi State University pull together for their students, their faculty and their community in times of crisis and despair because ‘Bulldog Nation’ is family,” said Keyes. “Likewise, the USACE Honolulu District Power Team is honored to show up for our Maui ‘Ohana in a time of crisis. Of all the skills MSU has equipped me with, a heart of compassion and kindness is of the utmost importance, and that is what I proudly display throughout this mission.”
Runnels has served in multiple positions on previous emergency responses. During the USACE response to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017 and 2018, he served as a quality assurance specialist, a quality assurance lead, and office engineer.
In his full-time job at Honolulu District, Runnels is a project engineer in the district’s Construction Branch. On Maui, Runnels has been a QA on the swing shift, checking generators to ensure they were properly maintained, and is now tracking generators to ensure accountability.
“Being able to help others in a time of need, I don’t see a higher calling than that. To rise to that calling, there’s just nothing more important,” said Runnels “It’s not uncommon to stop and help people in Mississippi when you see someone broken down on the side of the road. It’s just something Mississippians do. It’s the right thing to do.”
When the sun sets below the Pacific Ocean, the workday is less than halfway complete for Jon Runnels and Kenny Kwan. The pair are quality assurance representatives deployed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Temporary Emergency Power Team on Maui.
“We’re providing quality assurance; we're also providing government presence on site, and we’ll go around while contractors are working, which is one of our requirements,” said Runnels, who was born and raised in Mississippi. “So, we also do spot checks, which is what the quality assurance part is. We're just making sure that everything is going fine, and that we don't have any generators that go down. So that's the main point of Temporary Power - keep the power going.”
Kwan, is a project manager and Runnels is a civil engineer. Both are assigned to the Honolulu District. Both live on O‘ahu, and both are engineers but they never met until Aug. 16 when they arrived in Maui as part of the federal emergency response to the Hawaii Wildfires.
“We work in the same district, but I've never met him,” said Kwan, who grew up in Honolulu. “But it's good. It brings people with common cause together, right. We're here volunteering for the same reason: we want to help people, and that’s one of the joys of the Power Team.”
In response to the Hawai‘i Wildfires, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed the Power Team under a Federal Emergency Management Agency Mission Assignment.
The team consists of USACE personnel trained to oversee operations of FEMA generators that provide power to critical facilities like municipal buildings, critical care facilities and water pump stations.
The Power Team installed the first generator Aug. 14, and it was at a water pump station.
“At this time of need we’re supplying generators at you know important places such as water wells and municipal buildings that need power to run. People need water everywhere, right so their access to water can continue.”
Working late into the night, the pair travel to generator sites, the day shift can’t get to before their shift is complete. These locations are often far from any town.
Some sites are so remote and devoid of light that Runnels and Kwan use the headlights of their vehicle and flashlights on their phones to complete the QA process but by working in the dark, the pair help keep the lights on and water flowing for first responders and those in need.