Honoring our heroes

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The Sayres pose with members of the Rotary Club of North Hawaii after a weekly meeting on Aug. 13. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
Laura Mallery-Sayre and Frank Sayre pose with ocean safety officers and their new equipment. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA MALLERY-SAYRE)
A firefighter practices rappelling during a training. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JEFF LOO)
Firefighters attend a ropes rescue training. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JEFF LOO)
Laura Mallery-Sayre and Frank Sayre are recognized as honorary firefighters. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA MALLERY-SAYRE)
Waieakea firefighters pose with a rescue truck donated by the foundation in 2010. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA MALLERY-SAYRE)
A table holds some of items donated by the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation to the County Fire Department. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA MALLERY-SAYRE)
The Sayre family poses for a photo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA MALLERY-SAYRE)
The Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation donated a gator and to all-terrain vehicles to the County Fire Department. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURA MALLERY-SAYRE)

“It is the one (charity) that benefits everybody on the island. It is the one area that, sooner or later, you will know someone who needs them or you will need them yourself,” said Frank Sayre of Hawaii Island firefighters, rescue specialists and lifeguards during a talk he gave to the Rotarians in Waimea on Aug. 13.

The Rotary Club of North Hawaii had recently donated $1,000 to the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization where 100 percent of their donations go directly to purchase equipment and training for firefighters, rescue specialists and lifeguards on Hawaii Island.

The Rotary donation went to help purchase a winch for the Waimea Fire Station.

“You would think they would have a winch, but they don’t,” Sayre said. “Their wish will be granted.”

The Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation was named after Laura Mallery-Sayre and Frank Sayre’s son 17 years ago. They told the Rotary members how in 1997, a day or two before their son, Dan, was leaving for college, he decided to go for a hike to one of his favorite spots in Pololu Valley near Kapaloa Falls. He fell from the side of the cliff, and it took a day and a half until he was located. He was so far into the valley that the rescue turned into a 10-hour operation.

As the rescue team was called off for the day, David Okita, helicopter pilot, came to help. The firefighters all volunteered to stay, and two were lowered in to the valley to reach the 25-year-old in a dangerous rescue in the dense forest – with the helicopter blades shredding trees during the attempt. When rescue workers finally reached Dan, the Sayres were told that their son hadn’t survived.

Mallery-Sayre said that watching the men in action and seeing their compassion and commitment firsthand in the couple’s greatest hour of need, spurred the Sayres to find a way to thank the rescuers. They found there was no formal way for them to recognize the men who had risked their lives.

The Sayres also learned that better equipment could have made their son’s rescue much safer and easier for the firefighters.

“The reason they had to risk their lives was because they didn’t have ropes that were long enough to reach Dan,” Mallery-Sayre said. “It was amazing to us that with the terrain on the island that they didn’t have that sort of thing.”

Frank Sayre said when they started “peeling back the onion,” they realized that the department was missing other items that the Sayre’s thought were essential.

“They were doing underwater dives with 20-year-old scuba tanks and regulators,” he said.

The Sayres made a commitment to help.

“We started the foundation in 1997 with a dual purpose – to honor the men and women that went above and beyond the call of duty and to raise money to protect and save us and to protect and save themselves,” Frank Sayre told the group.

“How do you ever thank someone enough for risking their life … or volunteering to stay?” Mallery-Sayre said. “That is one of the things that keeps me fired up every year. If we can save one life, then our efforts are all worthwhile.”

The foundation is now on their 17th year of their annual awards banquet and silent auction, which is Aug. 30, starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii.

“It is very powerful to be able to honor them and to help them in any way we can,” Mallery-Sayre said. “We couldn’t do this without the generous support of our community.”

She said through a fun, festive evening, they are able to bring the island together to honor their heroes.

Since its inception, the foundation has raised more than $1 million – all of which has gone directly to new equipment and training for firefighters, rescue specialists and lifeguards.

Battalion Chief Gerald Kosaki, special operations, submits a wish list to Laura Mallery-Sayre, and she researches and purchases the item. The donation is then gifted to the Hawaii County Council, and they accept the item and the liability as well.

The foundation has bought items such as ropes, carabineers, ATVs, rescue boats, scuba equipment, binoculars, rash guards and surfboards. Last year, they purchased a long-range communication system for Hapuna Beach lifeguards through the help of the Ironman Foundation. This year, the Daniel R. Sayre Foundation hopes to purchase jet skis, which will require training for personnel, and also purchase ambulances.

“I don’t want them to go out there without the best equipment; I want them to have everything they could possibly need,” she said.

Telling their stories

This year, the Daniel R. Sayre Foundation will honor 16 firefighters, fire rescue specialists and water safety personnel from throughout the island – many from North Hawaii.

Their heroic efforts were performed during five separate incidents that will be recognized at the awards ceremony.

Laurie Beers, Paul Tucker and Ben Fisher

One of the rescue events was by water safety officers Laurie Beers, Paul Tucker, and Ben Fisher. On Feb. 3, at the Hapuna Beach north end, a man was body boarding and went over the falls. He was found floating face down out of the view of the lifeguards. Laurie Beers, who was off duty that day and doing some training on the beach running, noticed a man in distress being held above water by a bystander. She responded immediately, and helped the victim out of the water while protecting his spine. She then signaled lifeguard Ben Fisher who responded using the ATV who also alerted Paul Tucker by radio. The patient was not breathing and had no pulse. They initiated CPR immediately and made sure his injuries were protected. He regained spontaneous breathing and had a strong pulse. When the ambulance arrived, the patient was able to open his eyes and answer simple questions.

“This is just another example of how important our lifeguard presence has been at this beach,” Gerald Kosaki, battalion chief, special operations, wrote in his submission to the foundation. “Without their quick response, this person would most likely not have survived.”

Michael Sohriakoff, Scott Shiroma, Brian Keopuhiwa and Riley Young

In the second event, two people fell off the bridge at the 33-mile marker in Lapahoehoe. One person was found 30 feet down with neck and back injuries and the second was 150 feet down, unconscious and near the edge. Michael Sohriakoff, Scott Shiroma, Brian Keopuhiwa and Riley Young, with the help of members of their unit and other units, secured the victims, made sure their injuries were protected and brought them up individually.

“Darkness, trees, vertical terrain, sense of urgency, and multiple patients presented challenges,” said the report. “These men performed flawlessly under pressure … ”

Bran Keopuhiwa, Michael Akau, Jason Robello, Micah Chew-Marumoto and Paul Kekela

The third nomination was for fire rescue specialists Bran Keopuhiwa, Michael Akau, Jason Robello, Micah Chew-Marumoto and Paul Kekela, as well as many others. During a rescue at Akaka Falls in Honomu, they had to use technical rope rescue equipment donated by the foundation. Three of the men were lowered down the 500-foot cliff, and divers using scuba equipment had to locate and retrieve the victim in a cave 30-feet below the surface of the water.

Because of the terrain and length of the high angle operation, it was a critical team effort, according to the report.

Jeremy Buttz

The fourth incident was in March, when two kayakers were in distress in Kawaihae Bay. Firefighter Jeremy Buttz, who is not a fire rescue specialist, had to be deployed from a helicopter into the ocean to secure and stabilize the kayakers until the helicopter could retrieve them all. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter did retrieve the kayakers and Buttz was returned to shore.

The report states that Buttz “displayed his skills by deploying into the ocean in high wind and heavy white caps and kept the kayakers together. … Any separation of the kayakers would have been disastrous.”

Carl Pires, Ka’aina Keawe and Chad Sohriakoff

The last award was to fire rescue specialists Carl Pires, Ka’aina Keawe and Chad Sohriakoff, who helped a grandfather and father whose 16-year-old boy had fallen off a cliff and down onto a large boulder at the water’s edge in Kona. Not only did the men complete the rescue, but they also remained calm and professional, and helped the family through the challenging rescue.

Battalion Chief Gerald Kosaki, of special operations, said there are about 40 to 60 major rescues per year.

“If you look at our lifeguards, they probably do preventative measures and rescues on a daily basis,” Kosaki said.

While there are two fire stations on the island designated as rescue stations, they all have to be able to handle emergency responses. He said on Hawaii Island, they have to be prepared to deal with people who fall into the water, off cliffs or in lava tubes, missing hikers in the mountains, hurricanes, earthquakes and everything in between.

He said that with the proper equipment, it makes their job easier and safer.

“We are so thankful for all that Laura and Frank are doing,” Kosaki said. “Laura is so passionate about being such an advocate for the department. We are really eternally grateful for that.”

Beer said she met the Sayres through Ironman.

“I know a few doctors that have worked for them, and they are totally wonderful people,” she said.

“They are just really great people at anything they do,” Beers added. “They have giant hearts and it is cool to see what they do with it.”

“They want to give back,” Ben Fisher also said.

“They are both really nice people. I think it is great what they do,” said Jeremy Butts, firefighter. “They turn such a bad thing to a positive to help keep it from happening to someone else. They are really good people; I don’t think everyone would have the strength to do what they do.”

Mallery-Sayre said she and her husband feel like they now have many other sons and daughters, which is why she strives to make sure they are fully equipped and as safe as possible each time they go out, which is why they work so hard. She said she knows her son would have wanted them to help.

“We feel that Dan’s legacy certainly carries on,” Mallery-Sayre said.

The 17th Annual Daniel R. Sayre Foundation Award Recipients for Meritorious Service, Above and Beyond the Call of Duty—for heroism and exceptional performance

Michael Akau, fire rescue specialist

Paul Kekela, acting first rescue specialist

Riley Young, acting first rescue specialist

Mike Sohriakoff, equipment operator

Cole Arrington, firefighter

Jeremy Buttz, firefighter

Liko Keopuhiwa, fire rescue specialist

Carl Pires, fire rescue specialist

Chad Sohriakoff, fire rescue specialist

Jason Robello, fire rescue specialist

Ka’aina Keawe, fire rescue specialist

Micah Chew-Morimoto, acting fire rescue specialist

Scott Shiroma, HFD fire rescue specialist

Ben Fisher, water safety officer

Laurie Beers, water safety officer

Paul Tucker, water safety officer


The Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation 17th Anniversary Benefit Awards Dinner, Silent and Live Auction to support the Hawaii County Fire Department is Aug. 30 at the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii.

The silent auction begins at 4:30 p.m. followed by a gourmet buffet dinner and awards program. Cost is $100 per person. Proceeds from the event provide essential equipment and training needed by the Hawaii County fire, rescue and lifeguard departments on Hawaii Island. To donate to the non-profit organization or attend the benefit dinner, call 325-5456 or email