Move to 4-day workweek allows Oahu’s most elite lifeguards to expand their reach

A team of Honolulu’s most elite lifeguards are part of a growing trend happening at workplaces across the country: They’re shifting to a four-day week.
Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 3:52 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 6, 2022 at 6:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A team of Honolulu’s most elite lifeguards are part of a growing trend happening at workplaces across the country: They’re shifting to a four-day week.

Since the change two months ago, the city’s rescue ski teams have been able to respond to nearly double the number of calls.

Now there’s a push to put all of Oahu’s Ocean Safety lifeguards on the same schedule.

That’s because when someone’s life is on the line, every second counts.

On March 27, a Honolulu rescue ski team spotted a fisherman in the water three miles off Waianae Boat Harbor while a second man held tight to their partially sunken Jet Ski.

In video of the rescue you can hear a lifeguard ask the man in the water, “What’s wrong with it?”

The man responded, “I don’t know. We’re taking on water.”

“We’re going to take you guys in,” the lifeguard responded as a Coast Guard helicopter hovered above the scene.

Three rescue ski operators helped the men out of the water and onto their rescue craft and rushed them to shore.

A couple of months ago, this early morning rescue wouldn’t have been possible.

“Traditionally, we’ve been on duty from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m,” said Ocean Safety Chief John Titchen.

“We see a lot of rescues when towers are not open. At any given time on any beach people can get into trouble. And that’s when they need us.”

It’s the reason all eight of Honolulu’s rescue ski teams recently started working 10-hour days.

“It’s cheaper and more effective,” Titchen said.

Since the expansion in mid-February the mobile units have responded to 55 rescue calls. Twenty-two were outside core hours.

Teams are responsible for covering all 227 miles of Oahu’s coastline.

In Leeward Oahu, ski operators patrol from Pokai Bay to Kaena Point.

“A lot of calls the boards will end up on the rocks,” said rescue ski operator Kory Romero. “Inexperienced paddle boarders getting blown out to sea.”

And because of social media, lifeguards say they’re responding to more rescues in caves and along cliff lines.

“The swells tend to go up and onto the rocks (at the Moi Hole). There’s a strong current that pushes in,” said rescue ski operator Dayne Van Gieson. “We had a guy that got swept inside. And even our best free divers were unable to go get him.”

Often the first to arrive at an emergency, the team must expertly navigate conditions that are constantly changing.

“Dynamic situations that are seen almost nowhere else in the world,” Titchen said.

It’s a service that’s critical to public safety, and one the city’s emergency officials want to broaden.

“The next step will be to expand the tower hours,” said Emergency Services Director Jim Ireland. The goal is to have coverage from dawn until dusk.

But for that to happen, the department needs close to $5 million, only about a third of which has been approved.

And that’s not all. “We need more personnel. We need good personnel,” Titchen said. “We need people who can survive in conditions like this and bring someone else in who is not surviving.”

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