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(LISTEN): Missouri Task Force One members say Maui deployment was challenging but rewarding

26-year Missouri Task Force 1 veteran Cathy Schiltz and her dog Matty are back in Columbia, after a deployment to Maui (August 29, 2023 photo from 939 the Eagle’s Brian Hauswirth)

This month’s horrific Maui wildfires were the deadliest in modern U.S. history, with the death toll now at least 115.

Six members of Columbia-based Missouri Task Force One (MO-TF1) have returned from Hawaii. Two were incident support team members along with four canine handlers and their dogs. Canine handler Cathy Schiltz is a 26-year Missouri Task Force 1 veteran. She tells 939 the Eagle that the assignment was physically demanding and exhausting, but rewarding.


“Well the mission that these dogs do obviously is always very hard because people have passed away. But it is very rewarding so that they can give closure to the families who are missing so that the people know,” Schiltz says.

Ms. Schiltz and her dog Matty are back in mid-Missouri. Cathy and three of her colleagues … Ellen McEarry, Lynn Ballard and Kathleen Kelsey … briefed reporters on Tuesday. Boone County Fire Protection District assistant chief Gale Blomenkamp praises the four women and their dogs, saying they worked long hours in harsh conditions searching for human remains.

“The task force supports them obviously because they’re our people, right. That’s who we are, that’s what we do. But then the employers of all of our members out there in the community throughout the entire state, if they didn’t support their employees joining the task force, there wouldn’t be a task force,” Blomenkamp says.

He tells 939 the Eagle that the families of Task Force One members also deserve praise, for their support.

This month’s deadly wildfires in Maui have become the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii history, according to ABC News. Thousands of homes and commercial buildings have also burned to the ground. Mr. Blomenkamp says it’s been an emotional time for the four handlers.

“Think about that handler and what they’re dealing with in their own mind emotionally, but yet they’ve got to take the time to play with that dog and treat that dog because it’s a game to the canine. And so they have to be able to turn that emotion on and off and it’s got to be a constant battle within their own self to do that,” Blomenkamp says.