2007-07-20 / Community

Whistleblower Lifeguard Alleges Retaliation

By Brian Magoolaghan

The chief lifeguard who dared to publicly criticize her bosses and the city's lifeguard system says she's being punished this summer for being a whistle blower.

Janet Fash, a 28-year lifeguard veteran and chief of the Beach 97 Street shack, says her supervisors reduced the size of her command and are shorting the lifeguard staffing on her beaches. She also accused them of being hostile towards her and says she thinks they're getting ready to fire her.

"They're definitely making it a hostile work environment," Fash told The Wave this week after first speaking with Denis Hamill of the Daily News. Fash first spoke with Hamill last December for two columns that dealt punches to lifeguard union president Peter Stein and Richard Sher, the water safety director for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Hamill called Stein and Sher "permanent government hacks" who have "racked up considerable patronage and disproportionate salaries" and run an operation that would make Boss Tweed proud.

"These lifeguard bosses are playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette with Fash. But the ones at risk of death are the citizens," Hamill said in his column this week.

Fash told The Wave her beaches are prone to riptides and are frequented by large crowds, including visitors who are unfamiliar with ocean dangers. This summer they're being staffed with two guards per chair, instead of the usual three, because her supervisors are following state law, but not accounting for the fact that some beaches draw far bigger crowds than others. This jeopardizes beachgoers' lives and frustrates the lifeguards who are trying to ensure their safety, according to Fash.

In recent weeks, Fash has had to "haggle" unsuccessfully for what she feels is proper coverage. Then last Sunday, she learned that her shack would no longer be responsible for Beach 103 Street.

Stein did not return The Wave's call seeking comment. In response to Fash's allegations, Parks Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh told Hamill the department is following state and city guidelines throughout the city.

Fash has her doubts. "I'm beginning to wonder what they're doing," Fash admitted. She said lifeguard borough coordinator Javier Rodriguez documented her for insubordination and might be building a case to fire her. "It looks like that's what they're setting me up for," she said. "I wasn't brought up like this, but I am going to have to seek legal advice."

But Fash's outlook wasn't entirely negative. She said lifeguards - albeit not those from her shack - are getting additional ocean training.

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