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Maui dispatchers honored for August fire response amid push for more workers, benefits

By A’ali’i Dukelow

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    WAILUKU, Hawaii (KITV) — After demonstrating their dedication to serving those in need during the August 2023 wildfires, Maui’s emergency dispatchers received a national award at the 2024 annual 911 Honor Awards in Washington D.C. this week.

While they are grateful for the title of “Outstanding Call Center” and remain committed to their passion of helping others, they are also short-staffed and fighting for certain benefits.

During the unprecedented disaster on Aug. 8, the dispatchers fielded more than 4,500 emergency calls, compared to about the 360 they typically handle on any given day.

“Each call that they take, when they disconnect, there’s a weight left on them,” Maui County’s emergency services dispatch coordinator Davlynn Racadio shared. “Some people can shake it off very easily and move on to the next call and some people have a harder time dealing with it.”

The dispatchers are still coping with their own trauma from the tragedy – one of them even lost a relative to the Lahaina fire. Since then, the group has been receiving help from mental health professionals and support animals.

“So now, months down the road, we have laughter back in the room…there’s laughter again. I know we’re on the road to recovery,” Racadio added.

But as they continue on their road to recovery, the dispatchers are short-staffed and in need of 29 more personnel. The current 10 are tasked with answering calls for the police and fire departments as well as medics.

Kaua’i dispatchers are the only others in the state who do the same.

Because there aren’t enough dispatchers on Maui, they often work over time.

“A lot of the time they have six days that they work, which is one day off, and that is 12-hour days,” Racadio said.

The Maui Police Department is set to host a hiring event later this month with the hopes of gaining more dispatchers.

In addition to being understaffed, Maui’s dispatchers also do not qualify for certain workers compensation. Bills introduced at the state level to secure the workers such benefits failed in the past.

But during their trip to Washington D.C. to receive their national award, they met with Hawai’i’s congressional delegation – including US Rep. Jill Tokuda – who co-sponsored a measure to provide them more mental health services.

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