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LETTERS for October 3 issue

By Staff | Oct 3, 2013

Consider the cultural value of Moku’ula

Those hired to draft a plan for the Moku’ula/Mokuhinia Restoration Project, in my opinion, have been looking at the project from the perspective of “one size fits all.” They have broached the subject in the same way other environmental projects are diagnosed in the U.S. – save the wildlife and disregard the needs of the region and its people. While in itself, it is an admirable service to life, this attitude fails miserably when someone attempts to apply it wholesale. Hawaii has a history of a world view different from acquisitive principles.

I agree with Dr. Janet Six: “This is not a wetland restoration in a natural environment; this is a cultural environment in a sacred spot.”

So, I ask that those leading the Mokuhinia project take a closer look at what they are doing. This is Hawaii, where sensibilities are on target with cultural perspectives that need to be included in the use of a place that holds significant value to Hawaiians and others who love Hawaii, irrespective of the coots and the other birds that are being given a second chance at life. Give the cultural value of the place a second chance at life. That would be money well-allotted.



County Ocean Safety Officers should be compensated fairly

(The following testimony was submitted to the Maui County Council’s Budget Committee.)

In November of 2012, Section 8-7.4 of the Maui County Charter was amended to assign Shoreline and Ocean Rescue and Safety to the Department of Fire and Public Safety. This means the entire Ocean Safety section will be taken out of the Parks and Recreation Department and moved over to the Department of Fire and Public Safety. The people of Maui County have voted that they consider the services provided by ocean lifeguards a part of Public Safety, and therefore, the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget should reflect that vote by putting aside additional monies to bring Ocean Safety Officers’ compensation and management up to Fire Department standards.

On July 22, 2002, Maui County Ocean Safety became part of the 911 emergency response system – the first in the state – interfacing with the Maui Police and Fire Department on 800 MHz radios. The Ocean Safety section officially began responding to ocean rescues within Maui Fire Department districts using rescue skis. Ocean Safety Officers were initially told this would be on a trial basis, because the professionalism of county lifeguards was in question. Unofficially, Ocean Safety Officers had been using rescue skis to help the Fire Department on ocean rescues for about ten years before that.

Prior to these developments, an Ocean Safety Officer’s “Area of Responsibility” was limited to the county beach park boundaries – they were responsible for as far as they could see. Once on the 911 system, Ocean Safety Officers became responsible for up to 120 miles of coastline beyond what they could see. Rescue Ski Operators and Rescue Grabbers have voluntarily traveled miles beyond what they can see at high speeds, been exposed to much greater risk, shouldered more responsibility and have suffered a tremendously greater amount of wear and tear on their bodies – all on a volunteer basis. The time has come for formal compensation after 11-plus years of a trial basis.

Some people may claim this is a union issue; however, when this issue was brought to the lifeguards’ union representative, the advice was to stop volunteering to operate the rescue ski until the administration offers compensation. The problem is Maui County Ocean Safety Officers do not want to jeopardize public safety in this way. They do not want to stand idly by knowing they could save a life, and so we are now the only ones on 911 in the state that aren’t being compensated.

Ocean Safety Officers don’t do this job for the money; you won’t become rich working for the county at the beach. Rescue Ski Operators do this because they love the work, no matter how physically demanding. They love being able to help people in need, and using the rescue ski has allowed Ocean Safety to enhance their abilities.

To some, a Rescue Ski Operator or Rescue Grabber may be considered a hero, but in reality, they are people with specialized skills and training who also have bills to pay and families to feed. They should be compensated accordingly, even if it is just a supplemental agreement for an extra $25 a day, like Oahu.

A key component to what Ocean Safety does day in and day out is using the rescue ski to get victims to shore faster, to better advanced medical care. It’s all about the response time – how quickly a rescue ski can respond from point A to point B.

Jet skis have revolutionized ocean rescues and are much faster than the Fire Department’s rescue boat kept at the fire station. Now, with the move to the Fire Department, it is time to compensate the Rescue Ski Operators for the jobs they have been doing all these years. Ocean Safety Officers do not want to stop helping if they can get there faster and more efficiently, but they do want to be fairly compensated.

This past year, the mayor got a 19 percent raise, the County Council got a 13 percent raise and the director of Parks and Recreation got a 15 percent raise, all for doing the same job requirements. In the past 11 years, front-line Ocean Safety Officers have seen their responsibilities grow and grow and have not been compensated accordingly. Ocean Safety instead experienced furloughs; many missed up to three step movements, even as the Fire Department did not have furloughs and also got raises.

In the Fire Department, the driver of the Engine/Ladder Company has a higher pay and specific title; so, too, should the certified Rescue Ski Operators who work at beaches with rescue skis. All certified Rescue Ski Operators have gone through a two- to three-week course. Many have even applied and interviewed for the position, but they receive no additional compensation in comparison to a Tower Guard – who stays within the park boundaries – and there are no plans for compensation in the existing proposed reorganization.

The Rescue Grabbers should also receive compensation, even if only on a per-call basis.

If Ocean Safety is moving from Parks and Recreation to Fire and Public Safety, it is conceivable they will be asked to work and operate rescue skis during hurricanes, tropical storms, tsunamis and other hazardous conditions. Monies should be set aside for Ocean Safety to get hazard pay when there are high surf/wind advisories and other hazardous conditions that firefighters receive hazard pay for.

In the case of the Fire Department, it is possible to have one driver per shift. In the case of Ocean Safety, it is more physically demanding to be a Rescue Ski Operator or Rescue Grabber, so there should be at least two of each per tower. That way, lunch and training breaks could be covered without going off-line or having a captain there to fill in.

Fire Department truck drivers would not be expected to physically push the truck themselves, whereas a Rescue Ski Operator would be. There is no enclosed compartment for a Rescue Ski Operator to sit in – they are open to the elements, and they operate in dynamic ocean conditions where waves can get as big as double to triple overhead and beyond.

In the last couple of decades, rescue skis run by the County of Maui have nearly doubled in weight; they are now close to 900 pounds fully loaded.

In the 1990s, north-facing shores were generally busier during the winter, and south-facing shores were generally busier in the summer. Now, with the widespread use of stand up paddleboards, Ocean Safety is kept busy on all shores year-round rescuing novice users blown out by the wind, generally on rental boards. Kiteboarding is another new sport that has caused an increase in rescues. Increased shark sightings and attacks, as well as missing people, have kept Ocean Safety and Rescue Ski Operators busier than ever before.

A fire company has a crew of four at all times. Ocean Safety currently has no minimum staffing standards to be in service. A good minimum standard for a tower with a jet ski would be four, so that operations in the beach park they are stationed at would not be compromised during lunch/training or emergency rescues. Additional monies should be set aside to address minimum staffing standards.

During the summer and winter months, there are more tourists, more kids out of school on the beaches, and full-time Ocean Safety Officers are more likely to request to use their accumulated leave. In the summer, we also run programs (such as junior lifeguards) and do annual training, such as USLA/CPR and EMR re-certification. Monies should be set aside to hire contract workers, as the swimming pools do, so that operations are not affected during these busy times of year.

Please consider supporting more monies for Ocean Safety to adequately compensate Rescue Ski Operators and Rescue Grabbers, and address pay equity and minimum staffing standards.

Please set aside additional funding in the budget to bring the compensation and staffing of Maui’s Ocean Safety Officers up to the professional levels of our contemporaries. That is an additional $2.50/hour for certified Rescue Ski Operators with a minimum of two operators per rescue ski. If Maui Ocean Safety Officers could get retroactive pay for the past 11 years they have been providing this service for free, that would be great, too.

Last election, the public voted to merge the Ocean Safety Section with the Department of Fire and Public Safety. As a taxpayer, I am outraged the administration plans to reorganize before the move to Fire, without consulting Fire, and has included raises for the chief of aquatics and secretary based on the growth of the division, knowing full well that Ocean Safety is scheduled to move. What is the rationale for trying to push through a raise of almost $700 per month for the chief of aquatics and $267/month for the secretary when the supervisory and clerical workload will soon decrease by half?



There are rules for riding in truck beds

I don’t want to see uninformed drivers paying traffic fines, so I’m letting you all know what the rules are.

1. If there is still room for sitting in the cab, no one can ride in the bed of the truck. That’s $100 for the driver and another $100 for the rider in the back.

2. I believe it’s the age of ten, but no child under that can ride in the back – no matter whether there’s room in the cab or not. Big guys in the back; small guys in the front… okay?

3. ALL dogs must be tethered when riding in the bed of a truck. No can let them loose like we used to do before.

Any questions? Ask a friendly policeman.