As I troll the internet looking for news stories related to aquatics i am noticing a very real and scary trend over the past few weeks; there aren't enough Lifeguards. In Tulsa Oklahoma the city was unable to open all five of their pools when scheduled last week due to a shortage of Lifeguards. According to Tulsa Parks spokesperson Rob Hendrick the staff was five or six Lifeguards short of the number needed to safely open the last pool. In Columbus Ohio the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department was looking for as many as 30 additional Lifeguards to reopen three pools that had not had a full season since 2009 due to citywide budget cuts. Nearby the West Jefferson Municipal Pool was able to open after a scare last month when the Village had only secured three of the necessary eight guards. Thankfully two proactive citizens stepped up and helped recruit nineteen more applicants. The most striking story comes from Minneapolis Minnesota where over the weekend a sixteen year old drowned at a beach that was slated to have Lifeguards but didn't because the Parks and Recreation Board has been unable to secure enough guards to staff all of their swimming areas. "We need to have Lifeguards on, we want to have Lifeguards on" said spokesperson Dawn Sommers.
Speaking for myself I know that last summer we had over 25 certified applicants report for our pre-interview tryouts, a few of whom hadn't even applied with us yet and thus not gotten a call inviting them, and this year we didn't even get 10 certified applicants. We also lost a few of our dedicated returners because of some high profile budget concerns causing them to seek other jobs prior to our hiring process. In a conversation with the operator across the river we both asked the other if they had any surplus guards come out of their most recent Lifeguarding class because we weren't seeing the number of applications we'd like.
What are the causes? Could it get worse? What can we do? These are all questions I have been asking myself for the past few weeks, and i bet many other operators are asking as well. I think the answers are going to be very diverse. Certainly as the fate of pools and recreation programs becomes more bleak across the county due to the economy people are less likely to apply for a job they might not get to keep, especially if they may have cough up more than $100 to become certified for that job. With the highly criticized increases in Red Cross fees as well as the elimination of the challenge option in the r.2012 Lifeguarding program, guards may be less willing to return as their certification approaches expiration because they don't relish the prospect of paying to attend a twelve hour review course. *the purpose of this blog is not to criticize the Red Cross for either of those decisions I am merely repeating concerns and theories I have heard. Possible solutions are going to probably have to be just as diverse as the possible causes, and could include adapting to a hire-first, certify-second model similar to many surf rescue agencies, or active recruiting through local High Schools and Colleges possibly involving work study programs. Recruiting active seniors has already been a growing trend possibly it will grow even more.