In Sean Gallagher’s not so distant past, the Magic Sands beach lifeguard transported someone to safety on top of his rescue board. The trouble was, Gallagher’s board started to disintegrate as he paddled; the bottom layer separated and hung down into the water, making it hard for the lifeguard to maneuver.
With the rescue under his belt, Gallagher mulled the idea of holding a biathlon to raise money for new boards. This was a half-dozen years ago, when the lifeguards were transitioning from being under the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation to the Fire Department, and it wasn’t easy to acquire new equipment at the time. Then someone pointed him in the direction of the Sayre family.
In less than a week, Gallagher and his colleagues had five new boards and several pairs of binoculars.
“It was like Christmas in the spring,” Gallagher said. “They’re probably the most kind and generous people on an island full of kind and generous people.”
Saturday, the legacy of giving unfolded further as the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation, with the support of the Ironman Foundation, unveiled a new and long-awaited $12,500 public address system for lifeguards at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. Capable of being operated remotely via a headset, the long-range loudspeaker is designed to help lifeguards better communicate warnings in the popular beach area that is also notorious for injuries.
“We’ve been trying to get a PA system since before I got into this job four years ago,” said Gerald Kosaki, Fire Department battalion chief in charge of special operations. “Hapuna has more than 600,000 patrons a year and has been consistently in the top 10 beaches in the state for spinal injuries, and was number one for a number of years.”
Sandbars that rise offshore under certain conditions contribute to the injury rate, as they create shallow, treacherous areas where bodyboarders and swimmers can get slammed unexpectedly between waves and the ocean floor.
The PA system will allow lifeguards to warn beachgoers not just about sandbars but also sharks and riptides. The gift was just one piece of equipment among a collection of lifesaving and training items valued at close to $58,000, given to the Fire Department’s rescue and ocean safety divisions at a ceremony attended by fire personnel, community members and Hawaii County Council members at a Hapuna Beach pavilion.
“This is a tool to enhance the safety here at Hapuna,” Fire Chief Darren Rosario said. “It’s a nice day today but in the winter it gets really high surf.”
“This foundation has provided so much for the Fire Department and the community as a whole,” he added.
Other equipment included megaphones, cellphone boosters, dive vests, rappelling equipment and handheld GPS units.
An ambulance being custom built for the Makalei Fire Station will be gifted to firefighters through the Sayre Foundation if a Senate bill is passed to fund six personnel for the ambulance. The bill also requests ongoing funding for another six firefighters to serve the Hawaiian Paradise Park area of Puna, Rosario said.
The Sayre Foundation, backed by significant community support, has gifted nearly $1 million to the Fire Department in its 17 years of existence.
The generosity has roots in deep personal grief.
In August of 1997, Daniel Sayre, then 25, the son of Frank Sayre and Laura Mallery-Sayre, left his backpack and shoes on a ledge to hike a remote back portion of Pololu Valley near Kapoloa Falls. When the Fire Department was called in to attempt a rescue of Sayre, who had fallen off a 500-foot cliff, they found their ropes were not long enough to rappel into the narrow valley where he lay. The Fire Department attempted repeatedly to get a rescue helicopter into the confined area.
“We watched for 10 hours as firefighters risked their own lives,” Mallery-Sayre said. “In the end it wasn’t a rescue, it was a recovery.”
The incident opened the family’s eyes to the needs of the Fire Department for expensive, specialized equipment.
“We are nowhere near the wealthiest county in the state, not even close,” said Frank Sayre, who thanked numerous community members for ongoing fundraising efforts. “But I think we have more generosity, more heart, and look out for each other more here, than anywhere in the state.”
Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, who attended the event in the company of North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, shared with the group that she had also lost a son to an accident.
“Your foundation inspired me think what first responders had to face when they had to go recover my son,” she told the Sayres. “I think you have brought hope to all families that have lost children, and showed the good things that can come out of it.”
The 17th annual Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Awards and Fundraising Dinner will be held August 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, with live and silent auctions to benefit continued equipment purchases for the Fire Department.
Email Bret Yager at firstname.lastname@example.org.