LIHUE — You know those rescue tube stations, more than 200 of them, you see around the beaches of Kauai? The ones credited with saving more than 50 lives in the last five years?
They were illegal.
The state of Hawaii and the Kauai Lifeguard Association signed documents Wednesday legitimizing rescue tube stations on Kauai beaches.
“I was extraordinarily pleased,” said Branch Lotspeich, president of the Rescue Tube Foundation. “I believe the state has now recognized the incredible value of the rescue tube program and making our waters safer on Kauai.”
Monty Downs, president of KLA, was equally pleased with this step of the program.
He said the most significant benefit of the state’s formalizing the program is that it can continue on Kauai and expand to other islands.
“I am exhilarated by the state’s decision,” he said. “Rescue tubes obviously aren’t in the same ballpark as having lifeguards on our beaches, but their presence has been responsible for quite a number of lives saved.”
The rescue tube station program started in September 2008, when a citizen hung a lifeguard’s rescue tube on a shoreline shrub at Larsen’s Beach.
“Soon thereafter, a local beachgoer saw someone in distress, pulled out to sea by the infamous Larsen’s rip, and the beachgoer grabbed the rescue tube and swam out and saved the individual,” according to a press release.
The KLA picked up on this event and started putting up rescue tube stations.
Downs said beaches up to the high water mark are owned by the state, and for five years the state kept a “benevolent eye” on the developing program.
“The good news is that they didn’t tear them down,” Downs said, “and because of that there are a fair number of people walking around, people who wouldn’t have been alive were there not a rescue tube, and a person to use it, at the beach where they got in trouble.”
There are today more than 200 stations on Kauai’s beaches, as well as some on the Big Island and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
This year the Kauai’s DLNR District Land Agent Milo Spindt called Downs and said, “The time has come for KLA to officially request the state’s approval of having this program take place on state beaches. I’ll help you figure out the necessary paperwork.”
The paperwork was completed, and on July 12 the DLNR board, chaired by William Aila, formally approved the program.
With the help of Pamela Brown at Insurance Factors, the necessary liability insurance was obtained, and the formal agreement between KLA and DLNR was signed Wednesday.
Downs said there have been 67 documented cases where lives were saved via rescue tubes.
“The rescue tube program has been able to help Kauai with its “tough, tough ocean safety challenge,” he said.
“We’ve suffered 14 drownings in 2013, and it’s a matter of all hands on deck to try and figure out how to control this crisis,” he said.
The county Ocean Safety Division has come a long way in the last 20 years, he said, but there is room for improvement — more lifeguards, more towers, more equipment and more effective ways to deploy the lifeguards — to save lives.
“The rescue tube program, and a slowly-developing beach safety/information-display program, add more arrows to the quiver,” Downs said.