FAIRMONT — In one evening, the Big Island community replenished the needs of a depleted Hawaii County Fire Department through financial donations and equipment funding during the 21st annual awards ceremony for the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation at the Fairmont Orchid Saturday night.
Between Kilauea’s eruptions, brush fires, flooding and Hurricane Lane, the department has taxed its resources, foundation co-founder Laura Mallery-Sayre relayed to the audience.
“This year, more than ever, they need money,” Mallery-Sayre said of the fire department. “We have no money left to buy equipment. There’s no money left to buy training.”
By the end of the night, all items listed as needs for the department were paid for through donations during a live auction. Some of the items hoped for were ropes, rescue and rigging training levels I and II at $12,000.
The Ocean Safety Division also received a gift of $12,160.
“We got everything we needed,” Mallery-Sayre said Saturday evening after the ceremony and auction had ended. “The people, when they come here, they come ready to support. This is what aloha is all about.”
The foundation was named in honor of the Sayre’s son, Daniel, who died while hiking in Pololu Valley near Kapaloa Falls in 1997. Fire crews spent close to 10 hours trying to recover Danny, who fell 500 feet to the valley floor.
Co-founder Dr. Frank Sayre said he and his wife watched as the helicopter pilot tried to recover their son’s body.
“We had just witnessed heroism, above and beyond,” Mallery-Sayre said. “We wanted to do something to recognize them.”
What started as trying to find a way to thank the first responders led to the Sayres learning about the lack of equipment and training islandwide. From that, the nonprofit foundation was born and has captured the hearts of the Big Island community.
“We’re just the pipeline from the community to the firemen,” Sayre said.
Every year, Battalion Chief Gerald Kosaki said, the foundation has been able to generate the necessary equipment. The money raised also goes into ocean safety and hazmat.
Since the foundation’s inception in 1997, Kosaki said nearly $3 million has been raised in donations for equipment and training.
In this past year, the Sayre Foundation has obtained four battery-operated jaws of life through donations and grants, collapsed building training, fire engine certification training, two PA systems at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, radio harnesses, PA system as well as rescue boards at Kahaluu Beach Park, two rangers and 4×4 bulldog water tanker.
Last year, more than $450,000 in gifts were donated to the fire department.
“Having the Sayre Foundation is a godsend. Frank and Laura are amazing. They’re so giving. With their support it makes for a safer atmosphere for our firefighters,” Kosaki said.
Deputy Fire Chief Lance Uchida also thanked the foundation.
“It’s amazing how you took your tragedy and turned it into our miracle,” Uchida said.
The night wasn’t just about raising money for equipment and training, however. It was also about recognizing those emergency responders who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Several first responders were recognized for their efforts during a rescue. One of those rescues occurred last December when Kapu and Amanda Cummings were swept out to sea while fishing in Waipio Valley.
They were in the ocean overnight and were eventually spotted by pilot for Paradise Helicopters, Ryan Moeller.
“You know that weird feeling you get? Kapu and Mandy drew me to them,” Moeller said.
Once the couple was found, the fire rescue crews went into action.
Firefighter Kainoa Willey was aboard the chopper that came in for the rescue. He was also recognized for his efforts.
When Willey and the crew got to the scene, he said he could see three sharks circling Kapu and Amanda.
Since the chopper wasn’t equipped with the right rescue equipment at that time, Willey said the only thing they could do was chase away the sharks.
“What we sign up for is to help people,” he said. “When we can’t, it’s the worst.”
Kapu and Amanda were successfully retrieved from the water and in attendance at Saturday night’s dinner. During the award ceremony, they thanked all those involved in their rescue personally.
“There’s no amount of thanks we can give them,” Amanda said. “We’re forever grateful.”
The firefighters say they benefit from the Sayre Foundation’s gifts even if they’re not using it themselves.
“The amount of equipment and training you’ve given us is unfathomable,” said fire rescue specialist Justin Neeson.
Neeson was recognized, along with several members of his team for their efforts to recover the body of Kelly Mrowinski from Wailuku River.
Water safety officer Liana Carson was also honored for her water rescue of man who had gone into cardiac arrest in the water at Hapuna Beach. It was the first time she had performed life-saving measures while on duty.
Through Carson’s efforts, as well as others, the man’s life was saved.
Mallery-Sayre said it’s important for the community to know that they do this for the community.
“We as a community need to continue to support them,” Mallery-Sayre said of the fire department. “They serve us and we need to serve them.”
Lt. Gov. Doug Chin was present at the fundraiser dinner. He spoke to the audience saying the Sayre’s have “ignited the community.”
“They’re so involved in taking care of everyone,” Chin said.
Chin gave a heartfelt mahalo to everyone in the room.
“Look around you,” he said. “You are the best example of what a true, compassionate community looks like.”