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Bellport board stands firm, refuses to rehire village lifeguards

Bellport's Ho-Hum Beach on Fire Island in 2013.

Bellport's Ho-Hum Beach on Fire Island in 2013. Credit: Brittany Wait

Brookhaven Town lifeguards were on duty at Ho-Hum Beach Tuesday afternoon, four days after the popular summer waterfront reopened to village swimmers.

The beach closed July 17 after all six village lifeguards walked off their jobs, forcing the Bellport beach's weeklong closure.

Crew members cited mistreatment, poor working conditions and not being allowed to watch their children and swimmers simultaneously as reasons for their departures.

Bellport board members said the issue largely revolved around lifeguards watching their family members.

Village officials reiterated at Saturday's board meeting that the lifeguards will not be welcomed back, even after they offered to rescind the resignations last week.

"I think we're moving forward this year; I don't know about next year," Mayor Ray Fell said at the meeting, adding Brookhaven -- which supplied one supervisor and three lifeguards -- preferred to use its own lifeguards instead of working with those who had quit.

The rejection caused a fiery discussion among the 100 or so residents who attended Saturday's nearly four-hour meeting.

Village resident Lauri Del Commune defended the lifeguards and asked if they had signed a policy to not watch their children while on duty.

"The issue is they walked off the job," village attorney David Moran responded. "Everything else could have been worked out."

During summer weekdays, up to 30 people visit the beach. But that number swells to roughly 250 on weekends, village officials said.

Several of the Ho-Hum lifeguards who quit attended the meeting.

Matthew Horsley, 33, who has helped protect swimmers at the beach for 16 years, admitted to simultaneously watching his daughter and beachgoers. "It had been a past practice; I had no issue with it," he said.

But he said the resignations had more to do with working conditions and being forced to use old equipment. "We've been voicing our opinions for a while," he said.

Some residents characterized the issue as a misunderstanding that board members could rectify by rehiring the village lifeguards.

Not everyone agreed.

"Safety has always been our number one priority," said Rona McKechnie, co-chair of the village's waterfront commission. "The resignations were en masse, and the trustees acted in a responsible manner."

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