2006-12-15 / Front Page

Chief Blows Whistle On New York City Lifeguard System

By Brian Magoolaghan


Chief Lifeguard Janet Fash (second from right) sits with other members of Community Board 14’s ad-hoc beach and lifeguard issues committee at a meeting last August. She has become increasingly outspoken against the men in charge of the city’s lifeguard system and recently shared her sharpest criticism with Daily News Columnist Denis Hamill.Chief Lifeguard Janet Fash (second from right) sits with other members of Community Board 14’s ad-hoc beach and lifeguard issues committee at a meeting last August. She has become increasingly outspoken against the men in charge of the city’s lifeguard system and recently shared her sharpest criticism with Daily News Columnist Denis Hamill. A local lifeguard chief who is risking her job by blowing the whistle on her bosses has publicly unleashed her fury over the city’s lifeguard system.

Janet Fash, a 28-year veteran lifeguard and the chief of the Beach 97 Street shack, recently told Daily News Columnist Denis Hamill that she fears understaffing and poor training may lead to drownings in Rockaway.

Hamill’s column, which appeared in the News’ Queens section on Tuesday under the headline “Lifeguard system’s drowning – chief,” marks the first time Fash has agreed to be interviewed about an alleged fiefdom that she and others say is run by Peter Stein, the president of Local 508 of DC37, which represents city lifeguards, and Richard Sher, the water safety director for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Fash says Stein and Sher arbitrarily decide on their own who passes and who fails the city lifeguard test. “They only pass those who will continue to keep their mouths shut, who are beholden to them. That’s dangerous for the public because they are not always the most qualified lifeguards,” she told Hamill.

Fash has become increasingly outspoken as Community Board 14 continues a push to bring beach and lifeguard issues before the City Council. At a meeting in August, Fash accused Stein and Sher of running a “cloistered and totalitarian operation.” That move prompted Democratic District Leader Lew M. Simon to applaud Fash – and predict that she would suffer consequences for speaking out. She told Hamill that she “was always afraid to talk publicly about Sher and Stein for fear of losing this job I love so much. Now it’s about public safety. The truth must be told.” At a meeting last month, Fash called for the creation of a junior lifeguard program and for more ocean-based training.

Stein and Sher didn’t return Hamill’s calls, but Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said Parks has expanded its lifeguard tryout locations, has a record number of lifeguards and didn’t have a single drowning on a city beach in Rockaway last season.

The story isn’t over, City Council oversight hearings are in the works for early 2007, and Hamill is writing more on the subject next week.

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