Lifeguard scarcity clouds summertime swims within the U.S. : NPR


A lifeguard watches as folks cool off in a public swimming pool in 2021 within the Astoria neighborhood of Queens in New York Metropolis.

Spencer Platt/Getty Pictures

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Spencer Platt/Getty Pictures

A lifeguard watches as folks cool off in a public swimming pool in 2021 within the Astoria neighborhood of Queens in New York Metropolis.

Spencer Platt/Getty Pictures

Over a decade in the past, about 100 folks confirmed as much as apply for the 2 seashore lifeguard positions out there in Brevard County, Fla., stated Wyatt Werneth, who was the chief lifeguard on the time. This yr, the variety of candidates and open slots had considerably flipped.

“With 50 positions to be stuffed on this open water setting, solely two folks got here out for the preliminary coaching,” Werneth informed NPR.

Throughout the nation, fewer persons are up for the duty to be water rescuers at their native public swimming pools and seashores. The difficulty has been brewing for years, with poor pay and waning curiosity taking part in an element. The pandemic aggravated the state of affairs.

Final summer time, the cussed scarcity led to seashore closures, shortened hours and slashed neighborhood applications. Werneth, who can also be the spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Affiliation, anticipates the identical to occur this yr — particularly at public swimming pools.

“We’ve over 309,000 public swimming pools and we’re an impression of over 50% of them being closed or having a discount in hours,” he stated.

The implications will be deadly. In line with the CDC, for youngsters ages 5 to 14, drowning is the second main explanation for unintentional damage dying, primarily in swimming pools, lakes, rivers or oceans.

Blame the tip of Baywatch, and a halt on visas

There’s a excessive bar to grow to be a lifeguard — candidates should be nice swimmers, bodily match, accountable, in addition to full a sequence of trainings on CPR and first responder abilities.

Up to now, lifeguarding was thought-about an esteemed, prestigious profession, however through the years, it has been seen extra as a part-time summer time job, in response to Werneth. He partly blames the declining curiosity on the tip of the TV hit sequence Baywatch, which adopted a gaggle of enticing lifeguards heroically saving lives by the shore.

“I wished to be a lifeguard due to Baywatch, Werneth stated. “Everybody on that present was revered as adults, it was a profession.”

However through the years, pay has declined and other people “simply began it as part-time summer time jobs and it mirrored the identical pay that ready tables did,” he stated.

One other problem for the lifeguard workforce has been visas. The trade has relied on hundreds of individuals from Japanese Europe coming to the U.S. on J-1 visas to work as lifeguards. Early within the pandemic, many work visas, together with the J-1, had been placed on pause by the Trump administration.

President Biden allowed this ban to expire in April 2021. However the pipeline hasn’t caught up but.

“The areas the place [the visas] have been used up to now are getting them again,” stated Tom Gil, the vice chairman of america Lifesaving Affiliation. “However there’s lots to be completed on each ends of the spectrum between the applicant and the company attempting to rent.”

Cities throughout the U.S. are scrambling to rent lifeguards

In New York Metropolis, roughly a 3rd of the full variety of lifeguards wanted to workers its swimming pools and seashores are presently stuffed, WNYC reported. The staffing subject comes after a number of incentives to bolster recruitment, together with elevating the hourly pay from $16.10 to $21.26 and providing a $1,000 bonus.

In the meantime, in Houston, the mayor introduced that the town’s swimming pools will open in three phases whereas officers work to rent and certify extra lifeguards. In Denver, some senior residents have stepped as much as fill the scarcity themselves. And in Philadelphia, the town started accepting purposes from folks with out prior swimming expertise.

The right way to preserve your self secure amid the lifeguard scarcity

To some extent, the incentives have been working — slowly, Werneth stated.

In the meantime, he has three items of recommendation for folks planning to benefit from the water this summer time. First, examine whether or not the pool or seashore can have a lifeguard on the day of your go to.

Second, “if in case you have a gaggle of individuals, assign a water watcher, form of your personal private lifeguard to your group, somebody that is going to not be distracted,” he stated. “You possibly can have a couple of and take turns.”

Lastly, if somebody doesn’t know how you can swim, be certain that they do not go into the water with no Coast Guard-approved life jacket.