1686052262 Lifeguard shortage clouds over summer swims in US NPR | mnfolkarts

Lifeguard shortage clouds over summer swims in US: NPR

A lifeguard watches people cool off in a public swimming pool in 2021 in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens in New York City.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A lifeguard watches people cool off in a public swimming pool in 2021 in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens in New York City.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Over a decade ago, about 100 people applied to the two available beach lifeguard positions in Brevard County, Florida, said Wyatt Werneth, who was the chief lifeguard at the time. This year, the number of applicants and open slots had changed slightly.

“With 50 positions to fill in this offshore environment, only two people have come out for initial training,” Werneth told NPR.

Across the country, fewer people are up to the job of being water rescuers at their local public pools and beaches. The issue has been brewing for years, with low pay and falling interest playing a role. The pandemic has aggravated the situation.

Last summer, stubborn shortages led to beach closures, reduced hours, and cut community programs. Werneth, who is also the spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association, predicts the same will happen this year, especially in public pools.

“We have over 309,000 public pools and are seeing an impact of over 50% of them closed or with reduced hours,” he said.

The consequences can be fatal. According to Center for Disease Control and PreventionFor children ages 5 to 14, drowning is the second leading cause of death from unintentional injury, primarily in pools, lakes, rivers, or oceans.

Blame the end of Baywatchand a stop to visas

There is a high standard to becoming a lifeguard: applicants must be strong swimmers, physically fit, responsible, as well as complete a variety of training courses in CPR and first aid skills.

In the past, lifeguarding was considered an esteemed and prestigious career, but over the years it has come to be seen more as a part-time summer job, according to Werneth. He partly blames the waning interest at the end of the hit TV series Baywatchwhich followed a group of attractive lifeguards heroically saving lives on the shore.

« I wanted to be a lifeguard for this BaywatchWerneth said. « Everyone on that show was worshiped as adults, it was a career. »

But over the years, the pay has gone down and people « just started to think of it as a part-time summer job and it mirrored the same pay as waiting tables, » he said.

Another challenge for the lifeguard workforce has been visas. The industry relied on thousands of people from Eastern Europe coming to the US on J-1 visas to work as lifeguards. At the start of the pandemic, many work visas were issued, including the J-1 Trump administration hiatus.

President Biden has allowed this ban to expire in April 2021. But the pipeline has not yet reached.

« The areas where [the visas] they have been used in the past are recovering them,” said Tom Gil, vice president of the United States Lifesaving Association. “But there is a lot going on on both ends of the spectrum between the applicant and the agency that is looking to hire. « 

Cities across the United States are rushing to hire lifeguards

In New York City, approximately one-third of the total number of lifeguards needed to staff pools and beaches are currently employed, WNYC reported. The staffing issue comes after multiple incentives to boost recruiting, including raising hourly wages from $16.10 to $21.26 and offering a $1,000 bonus.

Meanwhile, in Houston, the mayor announced that city pools will open in three phases as officials work to hire and certify more lifeguards. In Denver, some elders have stepped up to fill the shortage. And in Philadelphia, the city start accept applications from people with no previous swimming experience.

How to keep yourself safe amid lifeguard shortages

To some extent, the incentives have worked, slowly, Werneth said.

In the meantime, she has three tips for people planning to enjoy the water this summer. First, check if the pool or beach will have a lifeguard on the day of your visit.

Second, « if you have a group of people, assign a water watcher, sort of a personal lifeguard for your group, someone who won’t be distracted, » she said. « You can have more than one and take turns. »

Finally, if someone can’t swim, make sure they don’t enter the water without a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

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