Lifeguard shortage poses challenges for beaches, pools

The temperatures are beginning to soar but so are fears that beaches and pools won't be adequately staffed this summer.

Wyatt Werneth, a spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association, said a national lifeguard shortage could shutter up to a third of public pools. The shortage is due, in part, to pandemic restrictions and the suspension of J-1 work visas, which allow foreign exchange students to find seasonal work in the United States.

"We have to get up close and personal and do rescues, practice CPR, swim with people in certain kinds of holes, get into the water," he said.

Werneth said that becoming a lifeguard requires training in first aid, rigorous physical abilities, and a lot of tentative-type skills such as watching the water. That is why some organizations are even looking to recruit retirees.

"It has been a struggle and we've been trying to adapt to that by offering incentives — by offering a little more pay as well as sign-on bonuses," Werneth said.

An estimated 4,000 unintentional drownings happen nationwide each year, which equates to 11 drownings per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some parents aren't taking any chances and have decided to enroll their kids in swimming lessons.

"We want a child to be able to instinctively react to the water in a positive way, God forbid they ever fell in," Saf-T-Swim instructor Bobby Hazen said. "If you get them accustomed to the water early, they're not surprised."

New York City beaches opened successfully on Memorial Day weekend. Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Parks Department said it remains committed to ensuring the beaches stay open.

The city's outdoor pools are scheduled to open on June 28.