Spencer Platt/Getty Photos
Over a decade in the past, about 100 individuals confirmed as much as apply for the 2 seaside lifeguard positions accessible 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 individuals got here out for the preliminary coaching,” Werneth instructed NPR.
Throughout the nation, fewer individuals 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 scenario.
Final summer time, the cussed scarcity led to seaside closures, shortened hours and slashed group 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 now have over 309,000 public swimming pools and we’re taking a look at an impression of over 50% of them being closed or having a discount in hours,” he stated.
The results might be deadly. In line with the CDC, for kids ages 5 to 14, drowning is the second main reason for unintentional damage demise, primarily in swimming pools, lakes, rivers or oceans.
Blame the top of Baywatch, and a halt on visas
There’s a excessive bar to grow to be a lifeguard — candidates must be nice swimmers, bodily match, accountable, in addition to full a collection 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 considered extra as a part-time summer time job, in line with Werneth. He partly blames the declining curiosity on the top of the TV hit collection Baywatch, which adopted a gaggle of engaging 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 folks “simply began taking a look at 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 1000’s of individuals from Jap 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, have 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 vp of the USA Lifesaving Affiliation. “However there’s quite a bit to be finished on each ends of the spectrum between the applicant and the company making an attempt to rent.”
Cities throughout the U.S. are scrambling to rent lifeguards
In New York Metropolis, roughly a 3rd of the entire variety of lifeguards wanted to employees its swimming pools and seashores are presently stuffed, WNYC reported. The staffing concern 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 functions from individuals with out prior swimming expertise.
Find out how to maintain your self protected 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 individuals planning to benefit from the water this summer time. First, test whether or not the pool or seaside may have a lifeguard on the day of your go to.
Second, “you probably 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’ll be able to have a couple of and take turns.”
Lastly, if somebody doesn’t know the right way to swim, be certain they do not go into the water with no Coast Guard-approved life jacket.