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EDITORIAL: Time to rescue Ocean Safety

In the 2012 election the people of Maui County voted to approve a charter amendment that would move Ocean Safety from Parks & Recreation to Fire & Public Safety. The timeline for the transfer is to be determined by the Fire Chief, Jeff Murray. In March of 2014, Colin Yamamoto was promoted to become the Battalion Chief of Ocean Safety – to help structure and organize the transfer as well as prepare a budget for Ocean Safety within the Fire Department.

The expectation is that the transfer will take place on July 1, 2015, the start of the Fiscal Year. In order for the transfer to occur, the Department of Personnel Services and the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) must approve the reorganization created by the collaboration between the Fire and Parks Departments. Another factor that could affect the transfer is the Ocean Safety budget within Fire must be approved by the Mayor and the county council.

The reorganization attempts to bring Maui County in line with the rest of the State by adding a lieutenant or “beach supervisor” position but it does not address compensation of rescue ski operators who provide 911 ocean rescue services. The rest of the State has entered into supplemental agreements to provide compensation for rescue craft operations with Maui being the only county relying on the volunteer service of Ocean Safety Officers operating on the 911 system from the Department of Parks & Recreation.

ocean safety lifeguard jet ski

To remedy this situation, Council member Elle Cochran has drafted a Resolution urging the Arakawa administration and Parks to enter into a similar supplemental agreement with HGEA. This supplemental agreement would cost $102,200 annually to pay fourteen operators to provide daily 911 ocean rescue services and bring them up to the pay that other jurisdictions across the state are receiving. The Parks and Fire Department have indicated that they do support compensating operators and the resolution but ultimately it will need to be approved by the council and the mayor.

The Ocean Safety budget within Fire attempts to address issues of minimum staffing standards. Currently there are many days when operations are short staffed with two Officers per lifeguard tower responsible for miles of coastline and thousands of people. The funding Ocean Safety currently receives is reflective of a recreational program; to bring this section up to emergency response capacity is going to take our elected officials putting monies aside to adequately fund the transition. The Fire Department will be requesting funds for 8 additional Ocean Safety Officers as well as clerks and a mechanic and equipment funding.

Having Ocean Safety become part of the Department of Fire and Public Safety makes sense. It is the will of the people. Now it is up to the Mayor and the Council to approve the necessary funds and the Department of Personnel Services and the HGEA to work with Parks and Fire to establish a realistic organization and structure in order to move forward.

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About Neldon "AZD" Mamuad

Neldon "AZD" Mamuad
Neldon "AZD" Mamuad is a pioneering social media entrepreneur who created MAUIWatch to solve the problem of breaking news on Maui. He has a 10-year pedigree running successful broadcast properties on Maui. He created KJMD-FM (Da Jam 98.3) in 2002 and hosted the widely popular "Big Phat Morning Show". Neldon is a local politco, event technologist, and involved with various community organizations. He was formerly Chairman of the Maui County Liquor Control Commission in 2014.

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