swimming pools

South Florida Departments, Orgs Struggle to Staff Lifeguards for Summer

This is mainly impacting pools and waterparks, and the challenge is being felt across the country

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Some South Florida organizations and departments are dealing with a lifeguard shortage heading into the summer.

This is mainly impacting pools and waterparks, and the challenge is being felt across the country.

"This year we really have a crisis in getting enough lifeguards," said Jim O'Connor, the Aquatics Program Manager for Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department.

O'Connor said they're about 100 lifeguards short from where they would normally be this time of year. 

He says it could also reduce programs such as Learn to Swim.

"We are having to reduce hours, just until we get enough staff," he said.

Eric Gomez, the Associate Executive Director of Aquatics for the YMCA of South Florida, said the facility is dealing with the same staffing struggle.

"Pre-pandemic, we had about 250 lifeguards on staff. At the moment we're currently at 85-100," Gomez said.

Like Dade County, the shortages are leading them to reduce pool hours at certain facilities and reduce programs like their swim lessons.

That's because they train their lifeguards to become swim instructors.

"With swim instructors, we provide swim lessons to the community," Gomez said. "Without swim lessons, we increase the likelihood of drowning incidents happening in our community."

Wyatt Werneth, the spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association, said the challenge is not unique to Florida

"We are experiencing what we consider a critical lifeguard shortage around America right now primarily in the water parks and the pools," Werneth said.

Many point to the pandemic as part of the problem, with lifeguards left searching for other jobs and certifications lapsing.

However, pay proved to be an issue, too.

"I’ve never lost a lifeguard to McDonald's, and this year actually I lost a lifeguard to McDonald's," O'Connor said.

Both Miami-Dade County and the local YMCA say they have now increased their starting pay. They are providing other incentives, like offering and paying for lifeguard training classes for those who agree to work with them.

Miami-Dade County tells us their year-round pools will not be impacted.

Broward County Parks and Recreation Department told us it took a little longer than usual to hire their lifeguards.

The county did provide a new incentive, offering to pay for the cost of the Jeff Ellis & Associates license, which they say is approximately $120.

They say their hours and operations will not be impacted.

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