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Kaua‘i Fire Department seeking $450k to reduce drownings

LIHU‘E — Following five drownings over the course of five months, the Kaua‘i Fire Department is seeking more than $450,000 to increase staffing and coverage for its Ocean Safety Bureau operations.

If secured, the funds would pay for an additional 12 full-time lifeguards, and would allow the department to safeguard all monitored beaches 10 hours a day, seven days a week, through a new “Dawn to Dusk” program.

The proposal comes as part of Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami’s $312 million budget proposal, approximately $19.6 million of which would go toward the fire department.

During Friday’s Kaua‘i County Council budget review session, Laola Aea, president of nonprofit Kaua‘i Lifeguard Association, told council members that not adding more lifeguard positions puts both victims and bystanders at risk.

“We need more professionals out there,” she said. “In the absence of actually having a lifeguard at a tower, what happens is that you get lay-rescuers coming to the aid of somebody in trouble. Sometimes the lay-rescuers are great — they’re the true first responders sometimes — but sometimes what happens is you end up having a double drowning, where the lay-rescuer gets in trouble.”

County council Chair Mel Rapozo replied by taking the notion one step further, adding even lifeguards themselves would benefit from additional personnel.

“Having an extra body there can actually help save not only the person drowning, but actually our ocean safety person, right?” he asked, to which Aea agreed.

Later in the budget review, Rapozo expressed optimism over whether the council members would support the $450,000 request.

“We have received a lot of testimony in support,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is going to oppose the safety officers.”

Kawakami first noted his desire to bolster the department’s Ocean Safety Bureau during his State of the County address on March 14, adding the proposal was spurred by the county’s five drownings over the span of five months.

“With extended hours for our lifeguard towers and enhanced roving ski patrols, we can accomplish quicker response times for ocean rescues, because every minute counts when attempting to save a life,” he said. “Saving lives and supporting families sits at the core of what we do as a county, and our budget commits to caring for our families, from keiki to kupuna.”

Council members will begin deliberation and preliminary decision-making on the mayor’s budget on May 12.


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or
Source: The Garden Island

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