On a windy afternoon in March, firefighter Jeremy Buttz dropped from a helicopter into the choppy waters off the Kohala Coast to stay with two kayakers who had been blown out to sea.
Buttz, who works in the South Kohala Fire Station, is one of 16 firefighters being honored this year by the Daniel Robert Sayre Memorial Foundation at its 17th annual awards ceremony, set for Aug. 30.
Though not a fire rescue specialist, Buttz has been trained for ocean rescues, and when the department’s Chopper 1 was unavailable, Buttz boarded Chopper 2 and headed to the coastal area off Akoni Pule Highway, where the kayakers were located.
“Because of the high winds and heavy white caps they produce, locating the kayakers was going to be difficult even from the air in Chopper 2,” said a written account of the rescue, which was provided by the foundation. “With radio communications and the help of the (kayakers’) father and land based personnel (the helicopter) was able to locate the kayakers approximately 1.5 miles off shore.”
Buttz and another firefighter saw the kayakers were being flipped by the waves. The department’s West Hawaii rescue company, based in Kailua-Kona, was on its way with a boat, but it wouldn’t make it to the scene for quite a while, fire officials said in their account. Firefighters decided the best option was to extricate the kayakers from the water. But what would have been a fairly typical rescue for Chopper 1, to which a Billy Pugh net — an ocean rescue device — can be attached is a trickier operation for Chopper 2. That helicopter must first drop rescue workers into the water, then the net can be lowered.
“Buttz was then deployed into the ocean to secure and stabilize the two kayakers until Chopper 2 would come back and retrieve them,” the Hawaii County Fire Department’s narrative said.
Before the helicopter headed back to sea, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kiska came near the scene, its crew volunteering to get Buttz and the kayakers out of the water.
“Buttz displayed his skills by deploying into the ocean in high wind/heavy white caps and kept the kayakers together while Chopper 2 went to shore to attach the Billy Pugh net,” the narrative said. “Any separation of the kayakers in those conditions might have been disastrous.”
That’s just one of five stories that will be told at the ceremony, said foundation co-founder Laura Mallery-Sayre. Her son Daniel’s death, and how the county’s firefighters went above and beyond the call of duty to retrieve his body from a dangerous valley location, spurred her and husband Frank to start the foundation, which raises thousands of dollars annually. The foundation then uses the donations to purchase rescue equipment for the Fire Department.
Other honorees this year are Michael Sohriakoff, Scott Shiroma, Bran Keopuhiwa, Riley Young, Michael Akau, Jason Robello, Micah Chew-Marumoto, Paul Kekela, Paul Tucker, Ben Fisher, Laurie Beers, Carl Pires, Kaaina Keawe, Chad Sohriakoff and Cole Arrington.
“We said if we can help these people save even one life, then our goal has been accomplished,” Mallery-Sayre said. “The Fire Department tells us over and over it’s not just one life, it’s multiple lives.”
Fire officials will often tell the Sayres when equipment the foundation has donated has helped save those lifes, she added.
The foundation also provides funding for training, covering gaps that the county’s budget just can’t, she said.
“The needs for services are going up,” Mallery-Sayre said. “The money is going down. They should be the last people that ever go wanting for anything.”
This year’s silent auction is shaping up to be the biggest ever, she said. Items up for bid include hotel stays, including seven nights at the Fairmont St. Andrews in Scotland. That package includes golf at the world famous course in the city. An English fly fisher will teach fly tying lessons, as well as offer fly fishing instruction. Other items include zipline tours, a signed football from Seattle Seahawks player Max Unger. A gift giveaway at the event this year is an electric guitar signed by Beatle Paul McCartney.
The Fire Department’s equipment and training wish list this year reaches about $80,000, Mallery-Sayre said. The items will “help to make them more efficient, safe and more successful,” she added.
The silent auction begins at 4:30 p.m Aug. 30 at the Fairmont Orchid’s Grand Ballroom. Tickets for the award ceremony and dinner are $100. For more information, including a full listing of silent auction items, the department’s needs list and more rescue stories, go to DanielSayreFoundation.net.