No shirt, no shoes, no lifeguards?
This summer, families looking for an open community pool or a guarded public beach might find it difficult due to a nationwide lifeguard shortage.
According to the American Lifeguard Association, it could even prevent about a third of the 309,000 pools across the country from opening. It also leat fewer staffed lifeguard towers at recreational beaches.
"Ever since lifeguarding started, we’ve had difficulty filling the ranks because it’s a tough job to obtain," said Wyatt Werneth, the association’s national spokesman.
It takes very rigorous physical training, first aid and trauma training and a lot of tentative-type skills such as watching the water.
City officials in Overland Park, Kansas, were forced to close two of their five outdoor pools amid the staffing shortages.
Lifeguard Kelly Thune, a junior at the U of MN., kept a watchfull eye on the swimmers in Como Pool. Thune has been a guard at the St. Paul pool for the past three years.
"Our staff worked incredibly hard throughout the winter and spring to hire, train, certify, onboard and schedule more than 150 lifeguards to safely staff the outdoor pools," city spokeswoman Meg Ralph said.
The shortage is due in part to the pandemic and the cancelation of J-1 exchange work visas.
"We’re going to get through this," Werth said. "As first responders, lifeguards are very resourceful. Even in earlier times when we had a shortage in lifeguards, we find ways to educate and protect the public, which is our number one priority."
Not all about fun in the sun
Aside from being super affordable, Felicia Bergan especially likes her pool in Grain Valley, Missouri, because it’s a nearby place for her large family to take swim lessons.
In towns with only one community pool, the staffed city-funded resource is vital.
Bergan’s 11-year-old has been able to swim for a couple of years now. However, her two youngest cannot get over their fears of the water in general.
"A lifeguard shortage would definitely concern me enough to change some of my behaviors," she said. "As a parent who can’t swim at all, having a lifeguard near each part of the pool gives me piece of mind that there is a nearby person who can help my child if they are in danger."
Drowning can happen in seconds and is often silent. It can happen to anyone, any time there is access to water. Every year in the U.S., there are an estimated 4,000 unintentional drownings -- an average of 11 drownings per day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
If you are fortunate enough to have a summer outing to an open pool or staffed beach, Werth wants to remind everyone to continuously swim near a lifeguard, check nearby weather conditions and learn to swim.