Courage, combined with rescue tubes, saves lives

The courage of people like Kauai’s Travis Smith amazes. Same goes for a visitor here.

These two men recently took heroic actions to help save complete strangers swept out to deep water during rough surf on the North Shore. What they did is above and beyond what anyone would expect. Not everyone is willing to put themselves on the line for someone else. In fact, the number of folks willing to risk their own lives trying to save someone in trouble in the ocean is in reality, pretty small. Most people wouldn’t do it. We’re not blaming anyone. Many are simply not physically able to try and pull a struggling swimmer from the big waves. Others would call for help and do all they could from shore. But to swim out toward waves, surf, and currents, takes someone with a sense of duty, strength, courage and, yes, in good shape.

That said, in both of these cases, the men were able to do what they did, in part, thanks to the rescue tubes that were there.

Each grabbed a tube, secured it, before setting out. Had the tubes not been there, two lives might have been lost.

And for that, we say thank you to the Rescue Tube Foundation on Kauai, the Kauai Lifeguard Association and the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay. All three have had key roles in promoting the program and encouraging its growth.

There are 208 rescue tubes around Kauai, including five added in the last month. The ones on Kauai have been used in at least 150 documented cases, and people have noticed.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser recently wrote about an Oahu community group that was in the process of handing out 1,000 water rescue tubes.

The campaign is a citizen-led effort by Hawaii Kai Lions Club Treasurer Eric Kvick in partnership with the Rescue Tube Foundation.

Kvick gave away 100 rescue tubes at Maunalua Bay in April to first responders and private homeowners who live on the water. One of his tubes is mounted on a pole at the popular east-shore spot known as China Wall — and was used in September to save a life. The Star-Advertiser wrote that Kvick said another tube that he posted at Spitting Cave helped save someone in August.

Branch Lotspeich, executive director of the Rescue Tube Foundation, lives on Kauai’s North Shore. He has made it his mission to lower the number of drowning deaths not only in Hawaii but around the world by making the tubes available.

He wants to make one thing clear: The rescue tube’s purpose is to protect the would-be rescuer.

“The reason we’re putting these rescue tubes out on the beach for family members, friends or good Samaritans to use is in fact to protect the rescuer,” he said. “By providing the rescuer with this flotation device, they’ll be able to go out and rescue someone. That’s happened time and time again.”

He is right.

That’s exactly what happened in the case of Smith and the anonymous visitor. Each used a rescue tube, which are about four-feet long and can float three adults, and each was able to safely return to shore after assisting the struggling swimmer.

“Don’t go out without a personal flotation device,” Lotspeich said. “It’s a very risky thing. With the flotation device there, it’s pretty much assured you’ll be OK.”

In fact, of all uses of the rescue tubes, the rescuers has always returned safely to shore. Officials also make it clear: If you can’t swim, don’t go out to try and save someone in the ocean, even with a rescue tube.

The program, in its ninth year, started as an outgrowth of the Kauai Lifeguard Association’s efforts. A citizen placed the first tube on a shrub at the remote Larsen’s Beach on North Shore in 2008 and within the first few weeks, someone used it to rescue a friend, Lotspeich said.

The program eventually made its way to the attention of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay, which has supported it financially and in other ways.

One issue on Oahu is that government agencies have not given permission for the rescue tubes to be posted at beaches around the island, which is why Kvick and company gave them away to first responders, such as lifeguards and firefighters.

Lotspeich hopes that eventually that permission is given. That’s why he continues to get the word out about rescue tubes and the simple message that they save lives.

“I have every reason to believe that in time, the various powers that be on Oahu will understand and permit these,” he said.

We hope so, too.

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