Press to add tower guards in the Dawn to Dusk program
HONOLULU (KHON2) — In the early hours of the morning, there are just a handful of beachgoers strolling the sand on Oahu’s North Shore.
Some are unaware that the swell is building and the tide is rising as they bring their kids close to shore to get up close with a 10-foot Hawaiian shore break.
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Most are lucky and run back just in time, others have no chance and the wave pulls them towards the sea.
When no one sees you being pulled in, the winter waves are big enough to prevent you from being seen from shore.
Tower guards arrived at 9:00 a.m. and immediately began saving lives by preventing people from even entering the water.
The tower guards have told families to stay away from the wet sand. They also warn people without flippers not to step on the shorebreak, and surfers who want to go out with the wrong board should reconsider.
Every day, tower guards save thousands of people before they enter the water.
As Hawaii‘s beaches grow in popularity, the City and County of Honolulu created the Dawn to Dusk program. It was intended for tower guards to station their towers from sunrise to sunset.
However, staffing and budgeting has been an issue for Ocean Safety for years.
The slow rollout now has lieutenants and lifeboat operators responding to 911 calls when the towers are closed between 7am and 9am and 5pm and 7pm
The tower guards are not in the program and leave around 5 p.m., even if there is a rush.
“Those two hours are critical to being able to respond to something that could have been prevented,” said Racquel Hill, a North Shore Neighborhood Board member who has spoken to and supported North Shore lifeguards for months, if not years .
ocean security is part of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the least funded department.
According to the City and County of Honolulu Operating budget for fiscal year 2021 The Honolulu Police Department received $312 million, the Honolulu Fire Department $141 million, the Emergency Medical Services Department $40 million, and Ocean Safety worked with $17 million.
Hill said the department should be given more, especially when the State sponsors Hawaii and its beaches and waters for visitors.
“All of our first responders deserve 1,000% all the resources, supplies, and respect they need to do their jobs,” Hill said. “To see such a gap in such a budget worries me because in a way it devalues its purpose.”
Discussions are ongoing as to whether Ocean Safety should become a separate department and have control over their budget and requests for things like safety equipment.
At the end of October, KHON2 was in Shark’s Cove when a swell built up throughout the day. While waiting for an interview with the district lieutenant, a set rolled through. To warn snorkelers to prepare for the set and stay away from the rocks, he grabbed a megaphone to relay the message, but it stopped working. He kept trying to get the message out, but the megaphone kept falling off.
“This video is very discouraging. It takes away the credibility of what we’re trying to produce, it takes away every part of their prevention,” added Hill. And you know what happens then? These guys have to physically throw themselves in treacherous conditions to save someone who could have been prevented and it wasn’t prevented because they weren’t given the resources they must or should have.”
the Lifeguard Union, HGEA, said they support the entire department, which works 10 hours a day, four days a week, as mobile responders and lieutenants now do.
But the bulk of the department is made up of tower guards, and when the guards work longer hours and fewer days, it means more personnel are needed to cover.
“They’ve been understaffed and, to be honest, their recruitment processes are pretty slow when it comes to bringing lifeguards on board,” said HGEA chief executive Randy Perreira.
Perreira explained: “So that’s going to be a factor, but we’re more than willing and very keen to arrange these extended working hours for the tower guards as it not only provides a benefit for staff in terms of the shorter week but clearly one.” benefit to the public.”
“It’s going to take a little while, and we look forward to at least starting the conversation with the city,” he continued.
Councilor Heidi Tsuneyoshi has advocated for lifeguards and wants to keep the Dawn to Dusk discussion going.
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“I want to make sure that we remain focused on this transition, to make sure what we’re doing with this program from Dawn to Dusk works not just on paper but in real time, and to make sure our lifeguards have the time have to react, and so on, those who need help don’t wait too long,” Tsuneyoshi said.