This is that time of year when many cities and counties across the nation attempt to fill their lifeguard rosters for the summer however as we have seen the devastating lifeguard shortage only gets worse year after year. We have been made aware of one particular story coming out of Austin, Texas that has certainly gotten our attention and leaves us cringing.
Courtesy of KVUE TV, 3/25/2016
AUSTIN – It may be a holiday weekend, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the summer vacation. And as they do each year around this time, the city is calling out to those looking to be a lifeguard.
The Aquatic and Nature Based Program Division of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department employs over 650 lifeguards each year. In order to get lifeguards hired quickly, the city held a job fair on Friday.
Austin Aquatics Program manager Wayne Simmons said the department ideally wants to hire 750 employees.
As an incentive to apply early, the city will give a $100 VISA gift card to the first 400 lifeguards hired by May 23.
“This is what Austin’s about,” said Austin Aquatics Program Manager Wayne Simmons. “In the summer, it’s hot. There’s no better place to go than one of our swimming pools. For us, the most important thing we can do is make sure our pools are open.”
Simmons said the department will have to cut programs if they do not have a full staff. In rare instances, he said, the city might even be forced to close pools.
“It may mean a reduction in access to certain parts of a pool,” he said. “We may need to close down the diving well at a pool for instance.”
Anyone over the age of 15 is eligible to apply. According to Simmons, the pay starts at $8.00 an hour and increases with age and experience.
As we read this article and made some phone calls, we became even more concerned in what is going on in Austin, Texas. They are not alone as many are feeling the pinch but what concerns us is that attracting candidates with $100 Visa gift cards is a dangerous proposition. They will most certainly get kids who have no lifeguard training and possibly kids who are not strong swimmers. These two elements area a deadly combo and will put many lives in danger. We won’t even comment on the fact that they are allowing kids 15 and older to work as lifeguards. Professionally speaking, we do not know any 15 year old lifeguard who is mature enough to handle crisis or to perform the job proficiently.
The second thing that concerns us is pay and in our opinion is a leading deterrent why so many potential candidates are not pursuing the job of lifeguard. How can one expect to pay a lifeguard say $8.00 an hour in Austin, Texas or here in California $10.00 an hour expecting them to perform? A lifeguard puts his or her life on the line for the sake of saving others in the water and all they get is chump change. Unless the pay is raised, the lifeguard shortage will continue to get worse as time marches on.
This summer we will be looking at drownings that occur on the watch of a lifeguard and analyzing each one to determine if age was a factor or perhaps training was inadequate. This will allow us to build a strong case for regulation in California that will raise the minimum age requirement and increase initial training from 24 hours to over 48 hours or more.