Installing Lifeguard Rescue Tubes on Kauai Beaches
Dr. Monty Downs got help from the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay and the Rotary Club of Po’ipu Beach in installing a milestone-marking rescue tube Monday at Kealia Beach.
“This is the 100th rescue tube being installed, so I think it deserves a little celebration,” Downs said between drilling out holes on the instructional signage and the pole securing the rescue tube and an emergency whistle.
Back-to-back drownings at Larsen’s Beach in 2008 gave birth to the project after CPR instructor John Tyler hung a rescue tube on a tree near the Larsen’s rip current, Downs said in an e-mail.
“Sure enough, within a few weeks, the rescue tube was used successfully in a crisis situation,” Downs said.
That prompted members of the Kaua’i Water Safety Task Force to hang rescue tubes on trees near the high water mark at several beaches.
But that arrangement did not look so professional, and following some trial and error, a design was reached where a 10-foot length of 3-inch AVS plastic pipe was embedded into the sand. The rescue tube, its instructional signage, and an emergency whistle were hung using stainless steel bolts.
The Monday installation brought the total number of rescue tubes at Kealia Beach to four, not including the tube Downs leaves at the lifeguard tower there.
“We’re almost through,” Downs said. “We’re looking at about 120 tubes being installed throughout the island.”
George Corrigan, president of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay, said the program works.
“We’ve had 27 verified ‘rescues’ since the project started, and countless numbers of unverified uses of the tubes,” he said.
Down said he recently attended a conference at the University of Hawai’i where drowning was the leading cause of fatal injuries among non-residents in Hawai’i between 2005 and 2009.
During that period, there were 167 cases reported, accounting for 46 percent. The second cause of fatal injuries during that same period among non-residents resulted from auto accidents with 35 cases reported, or 10 percent.
On Kaua’i, during that same period, drownings were reported at 36 cases, or 56 percent. This was followed by eight fatalities in helicopter crashes at 13 percent and seven cases in automobile crashes, or 11 percent.
Downs said after reviewing the cases where rescue tubes were used, he feels at least 10 of the instances would have resulted in death had it not been for the presence of the rescue tubes.
But the rescue tube stations do not replace the lifeguards, he said. In many cases, they supplement the corps of water safety officers because the beaches, especially during the summer months, still have a lot of people when the lifeguards retire for the day.
“The lifeguards documented 248 rescues last year, and our No. 1 message to visitors is ‘Please swim near a lifeguard,'” Downs said.
He said Polihale has 12 rescue-tube stations, Moloa’a has five, Hanakapi’ai has four, Kalalau has three and Kalapaki has five. Rotarian John Gillen said this equates to about a station at less than a quarter-mile interval at the more frequented beaches.
Following the installation, Rotarian Branch Lotspeich of the Hanalei Bay club proceeded to use his iPhone to take a picture of the installation, and following that, got a Global Positioning System readout.
Downs said this is the next phase of the program where each station will be located with GPS and pinpointed on a map of Kaua’i, a project being undertaken by Lotspeich and the Hanalei Bay Rotarians.
“Volunteers from around the island can ‘adopt a beach’ and see to it that the stations are intact,” Downs said. “If they’re not, they can replace the lost tube.”
The stations will also be numbered and the numbers submitted to central dispatch who would know exactly where to send professional rescue personnel in response.
Downs said of the 100 stations, there have been about 20 lost – either used in a rescue and not returned, or taken away for unknown reasons.
“We have been fortunate to have sufficient donations which allow us to keep up with these losses and not fret much about them,” he said. “We have been finding that the tubes that are most exposed to sun and wind may have a life of just 18 to 24 months before needing replacement. This project will continue to have maintenance expenses.”
He said with the 100 stations, a public awareness of the rescue tubes has developed.
After hosting a conference that featured a demonstration of the project, the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay has been receiving inquiries from clubs on Maui and other parts of the state interested in setting up a similar program.
Downs said the value of education is witnessed when a visitor to Polihale sees the 12 stations and something triggers in his mind that there must be a reason for so many rescue tubes in that area.
The Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay is one of the community organizations that have stepped forward to help the Kaua’i Water Safety Task Force realize its dream of getting the rescue tubes onto more beaches, especially those frequented by visitors.
Other donors include the Samuel W. Wilcox Trust, Rotary Club of Po’ipu Beach, Grove Farm Company, Caldwell Banker/Bali Hai Realty, the Woody Peeples family, the Bill Duke family, and friends of Heather Westphal and Tonya Cataldo.
“There have been a very significant and crucial number of more modest donors who have donated money for one, or two rescue tube stations,” Downs said, noting the cost for each set-up is about $150. “Particularly moving are donations both by people who have been saved by a rescue tube’s presence, and by families and friends of people who drowned on our beaches, expressing a determination to try and help other families avoid that tragic fate.”
Contributions to the furtherance of this project can be made to the Kaua’i Lifeguard Association, 160 Lani Alii Place, Kapa’a, HI 96746.
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