Couple rescued by Hawaii Fire Department donates life-saving equipment

  • From left, Hawaii Fire Department pilot Kalei Gregory, firefighter EMT Kainoa Willey, Kapu Cummings and Mandy Cummings talk together at the South Kohala Fire Station on Saturday. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)

SOUTH KOHALA — Months after they had been rescued from the waters off Kukuihaele in December 2017, Honokaa couple Kapu and Mandy Cummings sat among the attendees at the 21st annual awards ceremony for the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation last September.

The annual event marks an opportunity for the organization to honor heroes of the previous year as well as raise funds to buy the department much-needed equipment for future missions.

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And on last year’s wish list, said foundation co-founder Laura Mallery-Sayre, was support for a Billy Pugh net — the type of net used months earlier to bring Kapu and Mandy Cummings to safety — for the South Kohala Fire Station.

During the event, she asked if anybody in attendance could contribute toward the purchase.

“And the first paddle up was Kapu’s,” recalled Mallery-Sayre on Saturday at South Kohala Fire Station. “And I said, ‘How much would you like to donate?’ He said, ‘I’m buying the Billy Pugh net.’”

At the fire station on Saturday, Kapu and Mandy Cummings together with Mallery-Sayre and Dr. Frank Sayre of the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation officially donated the net, priced at more than $6,000, to the station. The get-together marked the most recent example of how the foundation, with the support of community members, works to ensure the Hawaii Fire Department has the tools it needs to respond to situations where every second and every piece of gear can make the difference.

“You never know when it’s going to be your turn,” Mallery-Sayre said to the group gathered at the fire station for Saturday’s presentation, which also recognized HFD pilot Kalei Gregory for his involvement in the rescue. “And to know that you guys — all of you guys — are helping us, that they are there at a moment’s notice to do these incredible rescues is really, really special to us.”

The new equipment is likely to make a big difference for the South Kohala fire station.

Gregory recalled that at the time of the rescue, they had a Billy Pugh net, but it had been damaged. Not wanting to use a damaged one with the potential for something to go wrong, he said, they decided to respond without it.

Kapu and Mandy Cummings said they had been in the water for more than 16 hours by the time they were spotted by Paradise Helicopters pilot Ryan Moeller.

When HFD responders arrived at the scene, sharks were spotted circling the couple. Without a Billy Pugh net, however, Gregory said they worked to keep the sharks away until another HFD chopper, which had its own Billy Pugh net, arrived five to 10 minutes later and got the couple out of the water.

Gregory said the donation gives the station and its crew the ability to respond and do their job “to the best degree possible.”

“It’s great,” he said. “Being able to have things like that donated just makes us be able to turn around and provide a better service to the community, really.”

That sense of thankfulness was one roundly felt by everyone at the fire station on Saturday.

“They put their own lives at risk just to save another life. That’s crazy on its own,” said Mandy Cummings. “It’s awesome, because they have families too and they’re still out there trying to save someone else.”

Although Saturday marked an opportunity for the foundation to recognize Gregory’s actions, the pilot was quick to give kudos back to everyone who took part in the rescue, including the helicopter tour pilots who communicated with rescuers and helped deflect the sharks from getting too close.

“Everyone was doing their part,” he said. “Between dispatch giving us information, all the guys that were on board with us, the firefighters that were on shore over Kukuihaele Lighthouse giving us information. So everyone was doing what they needed to be doing.”

The Sayre Foundation, he added, has been “such a huge support” over the years.

“The amount of money that they fundraise and be able to provide us with — I mean everything from defibrillators and stuff to the lifeguards to Billy Pughs and stuff for the rescue guys, I mean it’s huge,” he added. “It’s really amazing what they do. They’re definitely heroes.”

Firefighter EMT Kainoa Willey, who was in the chopper with Gregory during the rescue, said Saturday’s donation is just the latest example of many he’s seen that shows how the foundation helps the department help others.

“We’ve had code saves that were using the AEDs that the Sayres bought for the lifeguards. We’ve had rescues at Hapuna using ATVs and the boards that were purchased and procured by the Sayres,” he said. “We actually see crystal clear examples a lot.”

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In many ways, he said, the partnership among the foundation, department and community comes back to the popular idea, “the island is your canoe, the canoe is your island” and that everyone’s together in the same boat.

“We all have different roles, but the more we realize that the public donating to this, that helps us do our job that we help the public,” he said. “It’s just a big circle. We’re all taking care of each other, and I think the spirit of that is what drives the Daniel Sayre Foundation.”

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