Lee Cataluna: Dawn-to-dusk hours for ocean lifeguards is no-brainer
It’s hard to imagine any sort of opposition to extending city lifeguard services at public beaches to cover daylight hours from sunrise to sunset instead of the current policy of 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
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It’s hard to imagine any sort of opposition to extending city lifeguard services at public beaches to cover daylight hours from sunrise to sunset instead of the current policy of 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. After all, this is an island surrounded by a beckoning, sometimes dangerous ocean and drownings are all to common. But testimony last week at the Honolulu City Council in support of Bill 39 had an undercurrent of frustration; the frustration that builds and festers when something rational and vital is left undone for years and years.
This should be a done deal. It may take some finessing to implement because it means hiring new lifeguards and growing the department, expanding service in a “thoughtful way,” as Emergency Services Director Jim Howe said; but the discussion should be how to do it, not whether to do it.
With this dramatic increase of tourism bringing masses of unsuspecting, inexperienced people into the nearshore water, it would seem that expanding lifeguard hours would be top priority for the visitor industry.
But testimony in support of the bill often touched on the impact on Hawaii residents.
The text for the bill quotes a report from the EMS and Injury Prevention Systems Branch of the state Department of Health that found from 2005 to 2014, there were 273 ocean drownings around Oahu. Of that t otal, 57% were Hawaii residents.
Ocean Services Lt. Tanner Heytin said something during his testimony that really framed the situation.
“It has occurred to me that the Oahu taxpayers pay our salaries but they don’t get the benefit of our services,” Heytin said. “They’re working nine-to-five to make a living, and they go to the beach before and after work.”
Wow. No kidding. So many Hawaii residents squeeze in a little ocean therapy before work or wait out the pau hana traffic in the waves.
Might as well if there’s daylight. Might as well if you’re at work 9-to-5, just trying to stay on top of the bills. Might as well since, for many, Hawaii’s beaches are a big reason they live here, are willing to battle the traffic and work those kinds of hours.
Council member Kymberly Pine, who said she has been trying to get action on this idea for years, said that funding the extended lifeguard hours should not be an issue. “The administration has half a million dollars to re-do the Blaisdell in the budget,” Pine said. “I don’t see anyone dying in there.”
So true, and true for a number of other make-fancy-but-not-very-practical projects on the city’s current beach-improvement to-do list.
The bill received unanimous support from the City Council and will now move to the Public Safety and Welfare Committee. It should be enacted and implemented before even one more preventable death happens in a dawn patrol session or a sunset swim.