Some pools in the area struggle to find lifeguards
EASTHAMPTON – As temperatures rise and COVID-19 measurements rise, many are eager to resume their favorite summer hobbies such as swimming. Despite this demand, some public swimming pools may not open or will only open at reduced hours due to a shortage of lifeguards.
In Easthampton, the Nonotuck Park swimming pool has remained closed since it ended its summer 2019 season. The pool is still not ready to open, according to John Mason, the city’s director of parks and recreation, and will not be. only when the department can hire more lifeguards.
“It’s the first time we’ve experienced something like this,” Mason said. “We posted (the work) and social media wherever we could send it, and I know it’s not just us – it’s over… From Berkshire to Cape Cod, everyone is in. the same situation.”
While this situation is new for Nonotuck Park, the American Lifeguard Association reports that the lifeguard shortage has been brewing nationwide for years. Closures related to the pandemic have exacerbated this problem, the organization told the Boston Globe, with some certification or recertification classes being required to close or limit class sizes in accordance with social distancing measures. International workers looking for seasonal work also have difficulty obtaining visas, according to the organization, which also limits the pool of applicants.
The Nonotuck Park pool typically has six to eight lifeguards, Mason said. This year, he has not yet hired lifeguards and the open positions have received “only a few candidates.”
The pool would normally open the last weekend in June, which Miller says may not be possible this year. The department “is making a big push” for staffing, he said, and hopes to open around July 1. The pool could open with limited hours if it does not meet its usual staffing levels.
“Having the Nonotuck pool is a huge asset to our community,” said Miller, “so we’re going to do everything we can to try to have lifeguards and try to open the pool.”
Northampton Parks and Recreation has tackled this problem on a smaller scale, said water sports supervisor Jim Miller.
The city currently employs four lifeguards at Musante Beach and five at the John F. Kennedy Middle School pool. Under normal circumstances, each location would have one or two additional lifeguards.
The pool and Musante Beach can still open at this staffing level, Miller said, but if the department cannot recruit more lifeguards, the locations will reduce their hours of operation.
Some rescuers saw their certifications expire during the pandemic, Miller said, and were unable to renew their qualifications due to pandemic measures closing classes. In the meantime, Miller theorizes that these people may have found other jobs and no longer need the lifeguard job.
“A lot of people’s lifeguard status was canceled,” he said, “and I guess they didn’t want to go back and do the tests again.”
Others who apply for the job do not yet have their certification, Miller said, and the department cannot hire them until they complete a training and certification program. The city plans to resume rescue courses this summer, but only a few people have signed up so far, according to Miller. Fees for the program range from $ 210 to $ 310, depending on certification level and residency status.
Rescue isn’t the only job where employers scramble to find candidates. Nationally, the retail and service sectors, in particular, are struggling to attract candidates, which some argue stems from the low pay rates and lack of perks that often accompany such jobs. positions, or the remaining risk of exposure to COVID-19.
At Musante Beach or at the JFK Pool, lifeguards earn $ 15.09 per hour. An assistant beach lifeguard earns $ 15.85, while a beach head lifeguard earns $ 16.80. A seasonal lifeguard in Easthampton is paid $ 13.50 to $ 14.50 an hour, according to a city job posting.
Some local swimming spots are going against the trend: The YMCA of Grand Holyoke has managed to fully staff its three swimming pools for the summer, not without additional efforts, according to general manager Kathy Viens.
“We’ve been able to cheer on the people already active here at the Y,” Viens said, “including some of the people who are on our swim team or who swim here regularly. We tried to identify the people and put them through our lifeguard program.
While building on existing members, the Aquatic Staff have also made an effort to reach out to applicants who typically don’t fill the roles. The position generally attracts high school and middle school students, according to Viens, and favors teens during the summer. But the role can also appeal to older people who had never considered rescuing.
“We started to look at adults and some people whose kids have gotten older, so they’re looking for a part-time position,” Viens said. “Some might be retirees… We tried to be a little creative to find the right niche. “
The Y also offers in-house certification courses, which has helped make training easily accessible to members. For young lifeguards in particular, the Y is also making an effort to help develop professional and leadership skills, according to Viens.
Lifeguards start at $ 13.50 an hour and have seniority pay increases, Viens said, and the Y will help with training course expenses.
The Greater Holyoke YMCA has three pools – two indoor in Holyoke which are open year round and an outdoor pool in South Hadley which is only open during the summer. The Y currently employs around 20 lifeguards, which Viens says is just enough to staff the three pools.
“Even at this point, we’ve had enough,” she said, “but we don’t have any extras.”
The Y will continue its outreach activities to try to hire more lifeguards, Viens added.
The Amherst Parks and Recreation Department also staffed and prepared for the full opening of the Mill River and War Memorial Pools later this month, according to Assistant General Manager David Ziomek. The city is struggling to fill other recreation positions, such as conservation trail crews, but the rescue appears to be bolstered by college students in the area, Ziomek said.
“We recruited very early and we certainly have a long relationship with the college,” he said, “which I think makes a big difference. Many of our lifeguards work in the Five Colleges’ area pools, and can complete their training on campus. Ziomek did not have a figure for lifeguard pay rates at Amherst.
The city also didn’t need as many lifeguards as usual this year due to reduced swimming lessons, according to Ziomek. The city will only offer two courses, compared to six to eight usually, as it has had no time to prepare further with Gov. Charlie Baker’s announcement that the state of emergency will end on June 15. .
The Daughters of the American Revolution State Forest in Goshen, which includes the Highland Lakes, has also prepared to fully open this month. All lifeguard positions have been filled for the season, according to a spokesperson, and swimming areas will be open to the public seven days a week from June 19.
More information on rescue courses is available at www.northamptonma.gov/830/Lifeguarding-Class.
Documents from the Associated Press were used in this report.
Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at [email protected]