Helping Those Who Help Others
In August 1997, Hawai‘i-born Danny Sayre was a handsome 25-year-old college student about to finish his business degree at University of Texas at Austin when he took a solitary hike into the backcountry of Pololū Valley. After apparently losing his balance while trying to reach a vantage point with a 45-degree view, he fell 500 feet to the valley floor. His parents, Frank Sayre and Laura Mallery-Sayre, frantically set out to search for their son, while members from Waiākea Search and Rescue did their best to aid in the rescue and recovery.
Unfortunately, first responders were thwarted in their efforts because they did not have ropes long enough to rappel down the steep cliff. Next, trying a helicopter, they spotted Danny but could not tell if he was still alive.
The dense brush and terrain, and severe crosswinds that day made the mission difficult and dangerous. Further complicating recovery efforts was the fact that the helicopter did not have a winch with a “Billy Pugh” net (a compact helicopter rescue net), and the blades of the copter kept getting caught in vegetation. Finally, through the courageous actions of the rescue team, using its most basic equipment, rescuers reached Danny. They then radioed the tragic news to the Sayres that their son had died.
“After watching all this and seeing what it took to do, we wondered how could we recognize those who went above and beyond to help us with the recovery,” explains Mallery-Sayre. “We were grief-stricken, of course, but were also struck by how the rescue team — Clarence Young, James Kuniyoshi and David Okita, the helicopter pilot — went out of their way to help us, reassuring us they would not leave us even as the mission was officially called off.”
So in the early days, the Sayres, who had owned a busy dental practice in Kona since 1975, held an awards dinner at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel to recognize those heroes — but they could not stop thinking about both the equipment and training the county was lacking for its emergency responders.
“We saw more and more of (what) they didn’t have and more and more of what they needed to have to do their jobs,” Mallery-Sayre remembers. “For instance, the ropes. Not only did they not have the proper length of ropes, they didn’t have the training to use them.”
The Sayres learned that only 4 percent of the county budget was set aside for maintenance, supplies, repairs and equipment for emergency responders. (That number has since dropped to 1 percent.)
So, they decided to form a 501(c)(3) in their son’s honor to help raise funds to purchase some of the much-needed equipment and training. They named the organization in honor of their son — the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation.
Since 1997, the foundation has raised a staggering $3.5 million to purchase items for emergency responder rescue organizations. (See the accompanying list for a glimpse at what the organization has donated.)
“The bottom line was that although we endured horrible grief, and we knew we couldn’t bring Danny back, we still wanted to make a difference,” says Sayre. “With the help of the community, we knew we could put our energy and effort into getting the county the equipment and training they needed, so there would be much more potential to save more lives — and keep responders safer and more efficient while doing it.”
Mallery-Sayre and Sayre say they have felt Danny’s presence with them from the very beginning. On the way home from identifying his body at the hospital, they stopped at Māhukona to look out at the ocean and Sayre remembers saying, “I would be OK if I just knew he were OK.”
At that moment, an incredible double rainbow appeared and followed them all the way home to Kaloko. They also noticed a star that shone through their bathroom window without changing position for an entire year.
Taking these signs as Danny’s blessings to inspire and continue their important work, they knew he would approve and remain in a very powerful role from wherever he is now.
“Seeing the rainbow that day made us feel sure that all of this was Danny’s idea,” says Mallery-Sayre.
The gear and training have already saved numerous lives. Just last year during Hurricane Lane, the swift-water rescue training the foundation provided for search-and-rescue teams paid off, as the county made 27 rescues in 24 hours during that monster rainfall event. When a group of 13 kids got trapped at Anna’s Pond, clinging to a cliff with water rising higher than a two-story building, the rescuers texted Mallery-Sayre and Sayre saying they couldn’t have successfully completed the rescue without the equipment and training provided by the foundation.
“It’s very rewarding,” says Mallery-Sayre. “We’ve been able to fast track the procurement process. They give us the make, model and serial number of what they need, we purchase these items and through resolution, the County Council accepts the gifts.”
Mallery-Sayre and Sayre say that while it’s been beyond painful to lose Danny, they feel they have also gained a whole new family in the process.
“We may have lost Danny (who would be 47 today), but these wonderful members of the fire department are like our ‘ohana now. We have gained all these sons and daughters,” says Mallery-Sayre.
Emergency services on the Big Island support 200,000 residents and 1.5 million visitors every year, and it’s something everyone might need at some point.
Amazingly, 95 percent of the money raised has come from residents of the Big Island.
“With the support of the Foundation and the community working together in the finest way they possibly could, the results are a joy to behold,” says Mallery-Sayre.
For more information on the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation, or to make a donation, visit danielsayrefoundation.org. Its 22nd annual awards dinner and fundraiser kicks off at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at Fairmont Orchid Hotel.
Below is a partial list of items purchased through Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation for Hawai‘i County emergency responders:
• Bulldog 4×4 brush fire tanker truck
• Replacement rotor blades for county helicopters
• Two underwater communication systems for diver-to-diver and diver-to-surface
• Five long-range communication systems for Kahalu‘u, Magic Sands and H°puna beaches
• Two three-piece sets of Jaws of Life
• Swift-water rescue equipment and training
• Collapsed structure training for earthquakes
• Two FLIR heat-detecting search-and-rescue units for county helicopters
• Communication helmets for helicopter pilots
• Trailer for helicopters
• Billy Pugh rescue nets for helicopters
• Mechanic certification training for fire truck repair
• Flatbed brush fire truck for 7 Bravo volunteer fire station at the bottom of Palisades
• Complete ropes rescue gear and ropes rescue training
• Complete refurbishment of Kailua rescue boat, including two new engines and all electronics, and new cab
• 20 rescue surfboards, 20 sets of stabilization binoculars and 20 bullhorns
• Automatic defibrillators for island lifeguard stations
• Four ATVs and two Gators for beach lifeguards