Their work is often unpredictable and risky. Yet, amid the chaos and uncertainty, their quick and gutsy reactions make a difference. They save lives.
Seventeen Hawaii Fire Department personnel will be honored Aug. 31 during the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation’s awards and fundraising dinner. Their stories of heroism will be shared at The Fairmont Orchid Hawaii. The rescues not only highlight their skills and abilities, but also their commitment to selflessly act, even put themselves in harm’s way, to protect the lives of people, most of whom they will never meet again.
Consider North Kohala firefighter Jeff Maki and South Kohala Fire Rescue Specialist Kilipaki Kanae, two of this year’s honorees. After enjoying a family outing at Pololu Valley, Maki was hiking up the trail when he heard cries for help from below. Without hesitation, the off-duty firefighter raced down to the valley floor to rescue a family of five caught in the rip zone. He grabbed two rescue tubes and rescued three struggling swimmers, then returned to the ocean to save the remaining two victims.
“Without a doubt, if firefighter Maki had not been there and put his own life on the line like he did, multiple members of this family would have certainly perished — maybe even all five of them,” wrote West Hawaii Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Loyala in his nomination. “Fact of the matter is, it would take a special person to be able to do what firefighter Maki did that day. … Call it luck or a high power watching over the family, firefighter Maki was the right person in the right place at the right time.”
Kanae’s quick thinking changed the outcome for a man who had apparently drowned in high surf at Hapuna Beach State Park. When resuscitation efforts failed, and knowing brain cells begin to die after six to eight minutes without oxygen, Kanae decided it was best to get the victim into the ambulance. There, he used a suction device to remove about 700 milliliters of saltwater trapped in the man’s lungs. He then provided the necessary oxygen by inserting a breathing tube into the man’s lungs. The victim started to breathe on his own on the way to the hospital, where he was initially given a poor prognosis.
“The family almost decided to pull the plug when shortly thereafter, the doctors saw some organized brain activity and decided to remove the breathing tube,” wrote South Kohala Fire Station Capt. Brent Matsuda in his nomination. “After that, the patient began opening his eyes and moving all his extremities. Doctors had then given him a good prognosis that he would fully recover and was released from the rehabilitation center after only one day.”
The other honorees are Fire Capt. James Pacheco; Fire Equipment Operator Tad Fujii; Chopper 1 Pilot Lowell Ching; Water Safety Officers Joy Mills, Waika Koanui and Sean Gallagher; and Fire Rescue Specialists James Kupahu, Justin Neeson, Edward McClellan, Adam Ranne, Michael Sohriakoff, Marc Farinas, Bran Keopuhiwa, Chadwick Chun Fat, and James Wilson. All are being recognized for “meritorious service — going above and beyond the call of duty.”
Besides giving some much-deserved recognition, the event raises funds for the Fire Department, helping make it better and safer for its personnel. This is the 16th year Kona couple Laura Mallery-Sayre and Frank Sayre has put on the fundraiser with their foundation, named in honor of their 25-year-old son who died in a hiking accident in Pololu Valley in 1997.
It took rescue personnel 10 hours and perilous efforts to recover their son’s body. They later discovered, with proper equipment, including better ropes, rescuers could have made the recovery much faster and safer for themselves. To help, the couple created the 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation to raise money for emergency rescue equipment and training.
Today, the foundation works closely with Fire Chief Darren Rosario, Waiakea and Kailua-Kona Fire Station captains, and Ocean Safety Division officials to support the department, tasked daily with ensuring the safety of thousands, even if it doesn’t always have the essential gear or tools needed, Laura said.
“With severe budgetary restrictions and limitations, the Fire Department needs our help more than ever to fill in the gaps, ” she said. “This is a way for the public to give back to a department that has given so much to the communities it serves.”
Rosario could not be reached for comment, as of press time.
Frank said the Fire Department is unique because it’s tasked with fire protection and suppression (structural, wild land and transportation events), pre-hospital emergency medical services, land and ocean search and rescue, hazardous materials and disaster response, ocean safety, as well as fire prevention and public education. It also works in a place of tremendous climate diversity and with varied terrain, he added.
The foundation is propelled by the community and its overwhelming support for the Fire Department. It has raised more than $600,000 in equipment and donations since its inception, as well as secured a $400,000 donation pledge for an ambulance at Makalei Fire Station from Kona residents Bruce and Carole Herren. The latter is awaiting approval from the state Department of Health’s Emergency Services & Injury Prevention System Branch or legislators who can introduce bills to adequately fund such ambulance service. Getting ambulance service requires more than just accepting a vehicle. There must be enough money to operate and maintain the ambulance, as well as pay for its crew. The Sayres urged the public to contact the state agency and West Hawaii legislators in support of expanding ambulance services to Makalei Fire Station.
Most of the contributions are generated through the foundation’s annual benefit awards dinner and silent auction. However, the foundation only had an online silent auction last year because of the Sayres’ professional commitments, including closing Frank’s dentistry practice with his retirement. That method raised about $64,000, Laura said.
This year’s goal is $100,000. The Fire Department’s wish list totals more than $57,000. The needs include buoyancy compensation devices, rope rescue equipment, helicopter landing light, a long-range communications system, rescue boards, automatic defibrillators and jet skis, Laura said.
Jet skis are a priority for Rosario and could be used in a wide variety of operations, including retrieval of distressed or tired swimmers and assisting with searches. The watercraft, possibly positioned at each lifeguard station, could also make certain rescues faster, Frank said.
The funding has become instrumental while the equipment purchased and training received have resulted in saved lives and property. For instance, thermal imaging technology purchased for county helicopters was used during the search for the New York teen, who was swept to sea during an excursion at Kealakekua Bay, Laura said.
The gourmet buffet dinner begins at 6 p.m. It costs $95 per person; $85.50 for Fire Department personnel. Reservations are required. The public may also sponsor dinners for firefighters and their spouses.
The silent auction, held at 4:30 p.m., includes stays at international hotels and other five-star resort destinations, collector items such as a koa longboard and art by well-known artists, golf at Big Island courses, restaurant gift certificates and more. The foundation is still seeking donations of silent auction items.
To donate, make a reservation or for more information, call 325-5456, email email@example.com or visit danielsayrefoundation.org.