From dawn ’til dusk: City lifeguards push for plan ensuring extended hours

Updated: Sep. 4, 2019 at 8:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A proposal that would push the city to extend lifeguard hours is moving ahead at the Honolulu City Council, but critics worry about costs and recruitment.

Right now, most lifeguards are on duty from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but they say close to 20 percent of emergencies happen outside that window.

"It's really hard for me to leave at the end of the day when the beach is still packed," said lifeguard Kaiulani Bowers. "At Sandy Beach, so many people break their necks and back, so a lot of times we (lifeguards) stay without getting overtime."

The bill being considered by the council would expand lifeguard services from dawn till dusk.

Lifeguards say it would improve public safety and give them better peace of mind.

"It's so disheartening to come work the following day and hear about someone drowning when we should have been there able to help," said Ocean Safety jet ski operator Aka Tamashiro.

At Hanauma Bay, said to be one of the deadliest beaches in the state, a pilot program is under way to test the proposal.

Lifeguards there are working four ten-hour shifts, and officials say it's saving lives.

"Since we started this program in January, we've only had one major case," said Ocean Safety Lieutenant Tanner Haytin. "As a supervisor, I see the difference. I see the sick calls a lot less. I see the injuries, work related injuries, are down. And I see the overall morale up and the performance of our lifeguards is up."

Critics of the bill are concerned about the cost of extended lifeguard services and question if it’s the best use of city resources.

"Do we put police officers on every corner of Waikiki in the night time hours," asked East Honolulu resident Natalie Iwasa. "I don't think this is the right way to do it."

And while the Caldwell Administration says it supports the principle of the bill, it says it will take years to develop a new program.

"We need to do this in a well thought out, reasonable manner so that we can continue to deliver the services we do today and expand in a really thoughtful way," said Jim Howe, director of the Department of Emergency Services.

Ocean safety officials say it's challenging to find qualified recruits, but they believe they can fill the positions with good people if the spots are available.

"If we can add 15 positions to the division, for example, in the next year, we can really begin to take some giant leaps forward in providing more coverage around the island," said Ocean Safety Chief John Titchen. "I get that there's a cost associated with that, but we're talking about saving lives."

The bill passed second reading unanimously and now heads to the Budget Committee.

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