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Army to pull lifeguards from hotel beach


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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

Because of declining revenues, on Oct. 1 the Army's Hale Koa Hotel will discontinue manning two lifeguard towers at Fort DeRussy Beach that it has operated for 50 years.

John Jefferis, Hale Koa's general manager, said the hotel will work with state and city officials to see whether local government agencies can continue the service.

“;We simply cannot afford to continue this courtesy service at the expense of providing necessary improvements to the Hale Koa and its sister properties,”; said Rich Gorman, chief operating officer for the U.S. Army Family & Morale, Welfare & Recreation Command.

The Army owns and operates the Hale Koa, whose hotel rates are based on military rank or civilian civil service grade.

The hotel estimated that less than 10 percent of past lifeguard responses involved guests of the hotel.

The hotel's 16 lifeguards, of which five are full-time workers, “;will be integrated into the Hale Koa pool complex work rotation,”; Jefferis added. “;No lifeguards will lose their jobs as a result of discontinuing lifeguard services on Fort DeRussy Beach.”;

Notices and signage announcing the change will be posted at beach access points.

The state's overall sagging economy and the continued drop in visitors have had the greatest effect on the hotel's food service operations, Jefferis added.

This despite nearly all of the hotel's 817 rooms' being booked, he added.

“;We are now running at 97 percent occupancy.”;

But like other restaurants in Waikiki, there has been a drop in number of people eating at the hotel's restaurant.

Jefferis pointed out that the Hale Koa as yet has not reopened its fine-dining restaurant.

It was closed two years ago when the hotel began its first major renovation since its opening in 1975.

Ralph Goto, administrator of the Honolulu Ocean Safety Division, which manages the city's lifeguard program, did not return several calls seeking comment.

Bill Kearsley, who has been a part-time lifeguard at Fort DeRussy Beach for the past 15 years, said some of the lifeguards were informed of the change last night.

The Army has said that none of the hotel's lifeguards will lose their jobs, but Kearsley said he is still concerned.

“;We don't know what the implications will be and whether anyone will be replaced if someone quits,”; Kearsley added.

Kearsley said, “;This is an issue of public safety, since Waikiki is one of the busiest beaches in the world.”;

“;It's a shame that our soldiers risk their lives in Afghanistan, and when they come here they are going to risk their lives again, since there will be no lifeguards,”; he added.