The Moraga-Orinda Fire District is getting an unexpected — and very welcome — windfall due to the generosity of a resident who died last year.

The estate of Moraga resident Angie Sakalay authorized an estimated $200,000 donation to the Rescue One Foundation, a nonprofit that collects and administers funds to purchase medical and safety equipment on behalf of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD). The donation is the largest ever received by Rescue One and represents more than 25 percent of the total money received in the 44-year history of the foundation.

Sakalay was a long-time Moraga resident and an active member of the Moraga Country Club as well as numerous other civic organizations. She made annual donations to Rescue One prior to her Sept. 1 death

“She wanted to give back, and she wanted to make sure the money went to good causes. She selected a number of charities, including Rescue One, which she considered an excellent local organization,” said Sakalay’s brother, Tony Nuccio. “The Rescue One money can be used to save a lot of lives, and that is exactly what Angie wanted.”

Angie Sakalay, a generous supporter of local instituions, died on Sept. 1, 2020 and left a portion of her estate to the Rescue One Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Tony Nuccio)

Rescue One was formed in 1977 by Moraga residents frustrated by the 30-minute wait for 911 ambulance service that arrived from Walnut Creek. Residents organized, trudged literally door-to-door and raised enough money to donate an ambulance to the then-named Moraga Fire District.

The foundation has raised nearly $800,000 for MOFD. According to Greg Reams, foundation treasurer, Rescue One relies on the fire chief to determine the needs of the district. “Most often, the money is used for items not in their budget, and usually for state-of-the-art equipment,” Reams said. 

Rescue One has used donations to supply the fire district a Lucas device, an automated chest compression machine; a handheld thermal imager, used to locate a person hidden in a smoky area; state-of-the-art defibrillators, and even a drone equipped with infrared cameras.

The largest donation to Rescue One before Sakalay’s came in 2019 from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which authorized a $100,000 grant for MOFD-developed heat sensing technology. The program detects components of fire behavior and forwards the data for preparation of an evacuation plan. Genny Biggs of the Moore Foundation called the technology “a promising and potentially life-saving near-term tech solution to reducing the threat and impact of severe wildfires.”

In fiscal year 2020, Rescue One collected more than $15,000 in donations, slightly less than its $18,000 annual average. The typical donation falls between $100 and $200, with Sakalay’s donation likely to hit $200,000, based upon Nuccio’s, the estate executor, calculations.

Moraga-Orinda Fire District Chief Dave Winnacker said he’ll be working closely with Rescue One to ensure Sakalay’s donation goes towards a worthy project. (Photo courtesy Moraga-Orinda Fire District)

Rescue One President Maridel Moulton expressed the foundation’s gratitude, not only for Sakalay’s large donation, but also for her previous annual donations to the foundation. 

“At a time when we face the dual challenges of a pandemic and wildfires, our board is committed to work closely with Chief Dave Winnacker to identify a most significant way to invest the funds Angie has entrusted to us,” Moulton said.

The MOFD fire chief added his appreciation for Sakalay’s donation, saying how humbled he was by her high regard for the services provided by the men and women of his district. 

“We will work with the Rescue One board to identify a project which is worthy of this gift and will enhance our ability to continue to provide the service our community has come to expect,” Winnacker said.

Rescue One officials said that the Sakalay estate should be settled by June, when the exact total of her donation will be confirmed.