Hawaii’s Red Cross chapter honors 2014 Maui heroes

WAILEA – The Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross honored a volunteer of the year and a lifesaver of the year in Maui County at its 2014 Maui Heroes Breakfast on Saturday at the Andaz Maui at Wailea.

Lester Keanini was named Maui County Volunteer of the Year, and Robbie Bal was chosen as Lifesaver of the Year.

According to an announcement, Keanini started working with the Red Cross on Molokai five years ago and was immediately assigned as leader of the Molokai Disaster Team. With a small team of volunteers on Molokai, mobilizing manpower to respond to disasters was a challenge.

Through his passion and hard work, Keanini was able to increase the Molokai Disaster Team, successfully lead and support his team during disaster responses, and engage volunteers with preparedness projects and community disaster educational events.

When the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami caused damage to homes on Maui and Molokai, Keanini and his team identified 25 families who needed Red Cross assistance and ensured their immediate needs were met.

In 2012, Keanini deployed to his first Red Cross national disaster for Hurricane Isaac where he delivered supplies and assisted with shelter management.

For the past year, Keanini has been the co-leader for the Maui Red Cross Logistics Team. In this role, Keanini monitors inventory, moves supplies and provides logistical support. Keanini’s humble humanitarian spirit embodies that of the Red Cross mission, Red Cross officials said.

On Jan. 27, 2013, Robbie Bal, a residential construction worker with Towne Realty, and his wife were driving through their subdivision on Maui. From the main road, they noticed black smoke coming from the back side of a home in Wailuku Heights.

Although they could see only the roofline of the home from where they were, the color of the smoke caught Bal’s attention and he quickly drove toward the home. Bal spotted fire in the back of the house and immediately had his wife call 911.

Bal noticed an elderly woman still inside the burning house and ran in to bring her to safety. Bal then used a garden hose to control the fire for about 15 to 20 minutes until the firefighters arrived to safely extinguish it.

The fire caused an estimated $5,000 in damage to the 10-by-20-foot back exterior wall of the home. There were no injuries reported from this incident thanks to Bal, who had the courage to step forward to help a neighbor in need, officials said.