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Ho-Hum Beach to reopen after lifeguards quit in protest over Bellport Village policy, prompting swimming closure

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

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

Bellport officials have accepted the resignations of six village lifeguards and in turn hired a group of Brookhaven Town lifeguards who will watch swimmers at Ho-Hum Beach when it reopens Friday.

The village lifeguards quit at the end of last week in protest over policy issues, and they attempted unsuccessfully to retract those resignations on Tuesday, officials said.

Village officials on Wednesday declined to bring the workers back. Mayor Ray Fell said the lifeguards, who were village employees, walked out on Friday in a protest after two of them were told not to watch swimmers and their own family members simultaneously.

"You can't do that," Fell said in an interview. "You can't watch your kid and swimmers."

A July 18 letter to residents posted on the village website read: "We regret to inform you: Swimming is prohibited at Ho-Hum Beach today and until further notice. The Ho-Hum beach life guards resigned their positions without notice.

"The cause for their action results from the village enforcing its policy that lifeguards may not bring their children to the beach without supervision by another responsible adult, and that during their work day, they may not be in the water with their children."

Matthew Horsley, 33, a Ho-Hum beach lifeguard for 16 years, said he watched his toddler daughter for two hours a few weeks ago while on duty as his wife ran errands. He said village officials later told him that he couldn't watch his daughter and swimmers at the same time.

Horsley blamed the walkout on lifeguards being told they could not watch family members while on duty and a culmination of several other issues. He also said that family members of the lifeguards weren't allowed at the beach while they were on duty

"We decided to stand up," he said.

By midday Wednesday, Horsley found out that he wouldn't be welcomed back.

"I'm honestly fine with that . . . I'm still going to the beach," he said. The popular Atlantic Ocean beach is between Fire Island National Seashore and Smith Point County Park. The beach is for village residents only. Admission is free, but residents must pay a $12 round-trip ferry ride.

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

The six lifeguards were full-time summer employees who make between $14 and $19 per hour. The beach remains open to residents, but village officials closed it for swimming until Friday, when one supervisor and three lifeguards from Brookhaven Town will be brought on. Those workers will be paid between $15 to $16 per hour, Fell said.


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