WP Nursing Grad Brian Monaghan ’83 Volunteers to Treat Burn Victims during Deadly Hawaiian Wildfires

Brian Monaghan '83 beside the convention center and Ala Wai Canal, where he volunteered.

In early August, as historic wildfires devasted the Hawaiian island of Maui, William Paterson University alumnus Brian Monaghan ’83 stepped up to help those in need.

A nurse living outside Honolulu, Monaghan volunteered at a local convention center that was opened as a refuge for hundreds of people who were forced to flee Maui. There, he helped with triage, cleaning and dressing fire-induced wounds.

“A lot of the people in the fire were very concerned about family, friends, and neighbors, so they hid their injuries or didn’t think their burns were bad enough to need attention,” Monaghan explains.

“What happened with these fires is that it was raining fire embers,” he continues. “People just ran out of their houses in whatever they were wearing; some had tank tops on, or no top, or shorts, so they had a lot of burns on the head, arms, and legs.”

Beyond physical assessment and care, though, Monaghan found himself providing a great deal of emotional support to his patients.

“There were about 500 people in the convention center, and the quiet—it was so quiet. People were shell-shocked. Some people were just staring into space, or just sat there quietly and only wanted someone to sit next to them; they didn’t want to talk,” Monaghan explains.

Others spent their day outside, staring at the canal that runs beside the convention center. “They didn’t feel comfortable inside because they had been trapped in houses or hotels during the fire,” Monaghan says.

He volunteered at the convention center for two to four hours in the early days of the wildfires, after his regular job working as an MDS (Minimum Data Set) coordinator for nursing home residents. There, he is charged with conducting thorough interdisciplinary assessments required by Medicare.

Monaghan has previously volunteered as a nurse on the island of Kauai after a major hurricane swept through the area. He was “baptized” in emergency volunteerism there, he says, tending to patients in near darkness at times due to the lack of electricity caused by the storm.

As Monaghan has progressed through his career, he has realized the significance of the nursing theory at the core of William Paterson University’s nursing program. That theory, which he had both downplayed and questioned as a student, is now the backbone of how he evaluates and treats his patients—both at work and as a volunteer—every day.

“They taught us to look at the whole person: biological, psychological, physiological. That’s what the program really drilled into us. The biological, yes, but with that goes the psychological, and ‘What is their history?’ and ‘Where did they come from?’ and ‘What is important to them?’ … and sure enough, that’s what I do now. It gives you the framework—the context—to be able to do your job and look at those pieces and put them together.”

Monaghan also lauds the “good grounding” in clinical knowledge he received at WP, which helped pave the way for him to succeed in nurse management roles and clinch two professional credentials: Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN) and Resident Assessment Coordinator—Certified (RAC-CT) .