Proposal would split Honolulu Ocean Safety, Emergency Medical Services

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The City and County’s Emergency Services Department could be splitting up.

A proposal at the Honolulu City Council wants to make the Ocean Safety Division, which includes lifeguards, separate from Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

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City Council public safety chair Heidi Tsuneyoshi says that it is time for both EMS and Ocean Safety to have their own departments. Tsuneyoshi says things like staffing and maintaining lifeguard towers would be much easier.

“Just went out to see what was happening in our North Shore in our beach towers and concerns from the westside with Makaha and different areas about where they’re sited where their equipment is kept storage issues, issues with basic necessities keeping their vehicles and equipment up to date with oil changes and basic things like that,” councilmember Tsuneyoshi said.

Staffing is an issue Tsuneyoshi is also concerned with. The problem and could get worse when Ocean Safety increases hours of operation with the dawn to dusk program starting Thursday, July 1.

“It’s way past time for them to have their own seat at the table and be able to advocate for their needs,” Tsuneyoshi said.

Honolulu Emergency Services director Dr. Jim Ireland says his focus is on getting Ocean Safety prepared for the new program. He is still learning more about what having separate departments would mean, but has concerns about costs.

“You have to look at the structure and see if it’s going to be run by a director or an appointed chief, who is going to do their medical direction, who’s going to be their support staff. There’s a lot of layers to this but as far as costs any time you expand or grow a program there’s always costs,” Dr. Ireland said.

The buck stops with Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who has the power to reorganize departments.

“I like the coordination under a strong leader like Jim Ireland,” Mayor Blangiardi said. “I prefer to have that and I think everything is working quite well that way. I’ve been out there on location I’ve been out there with ocean safety folks we’ve seen their demonstrations. I’m a bit surprised, I want to find out what’s behind that,”

The resolution is expected to be heard Wednesday, May 19, at 2:30 p.m. at City Hall. Testimony information is available here.

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