Vermont beaches and pools need lifeguards for summer 2022

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Vermont beach and pool managers have made a harsh realization when preparing for summer crowds this year: Few lifeguards are applying for jobs.

A shortage of national lifeguards has plagued the state and is expected to impact the pace of bathing sites over the coming months. With a shortage of lifeguards, beaches and pools are cutting hours, shrinking swimming areas and desperately trying to expand their staff.

City governments and private employers in Vermont have run smaller-than-usual teams of lifeguards in the past — especially during the pandemic — but this summer is different. The American Lifeguard Association estimates that about a third of public swimming pools nationwide have been affected by the shortage of lifeguards, according to The Associated Press.

Industry experts point to several factors behind this trend. Low unemployment has limited young adults’ interest in lifeguard jobs, which often pay between $12 and $15 an hour in Vermont. The pandemic has also caused backlogs in lifeguard training and recertification courses, minimizing the number of eligible lifeguards.

“Everyone is always trying to find a few more guards,” said Jess Lukas, director of aquatic and family programs at the Burlington YMCA. “We are in.”

“We were lucky to still be able to install our towers”

For many city governments and private employers in Vermont, finding lifeguards has been a wild goose chase. Many have realized that their hiring quotas will simply not be met.

Alec Kaeding, Burlington’s waterfront and parks operations manager, considers North Beach “lucky” to have hired eight lifeguards this summer. Usually the beach hires 12-15 guards, although they would like to hire up to 20.

“We were lucky to still be able to install our towers,” Kaeding said.

A lifeguard watches the swimming pool at Button Bay State Park.

In Ferrisburgh, Button Bay State Park also struggled to hire. This forced the park to explore “creative” options, such as conducting a national search and offering on-site lifeguard certification to applicants. Button Bay has hired five lifeguards this year — finding one employee in Georgia — and expects other park staff to step in as needed. On occasion, applicants for other positions in the park have been asked to consider becoming lifeguards instead.

Summer camps are also struggling. The Burlington Recreation Department typically assigns multiple lifeguards to each of its summer camps, but now lifeguards will be shared. The consequence is less time spent at the pool for campers.

“Getting to classes is very difficult right now,” said Kirsten Santor, recreation program manager for Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront. “It’s something we’re working on here in Burlington.”

What’s Different About Vermont Beaches and Pools

Vermont beaches and pools have opened for the summer, despite the continued shortage of lifeguards. Other parts of the country weren’t so lucky — on June 3, ABC11 reported that half of the city of Raleigh’s pools remained closed due to staffing issues.

Even though managers opened beaches and pools in Vermont, the shortage required some adjustments.

A day in North Beach a previous summer

North Beach in Burlington, for example, reduced its number of lifeguard chairs from five to three. Consequently, the size of the bathing area has been reduced, which Kaeding said has caused frustration among beachgoers in the past.

During busy times, the YMCA of Burlington has reduced hours of operation, opening late and closing early. Lukas says the pool hours have been more consistent lately, but she will always worry about having enough lifeguards on staff.

Others worry that smaller lifeguard teams will have lasting effects on children.

“(There is) so much value in having informal experiences with water that we are not able to provide now – it will have lasting impacts,” said Santor, of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Frontline. Burlington seafront. “Informal access to water makes children more comfortable. Not having that informal room where they can learn from their peers what is safe and what is not will impact us later .”

The reasons for optimism

Desperate to bolster their staff, local beaches and pools are focusing on certifying and recertifying guards. There are only a handful of local lifeguard training providers, including the YMCA of Burlington and the University of Vermont, that the beaches and pools rely on.

The YMCA has certified 65 lifeguards this year, with a pair of courses scheduled in the next two weeks. Lukas expects the YMCA to certify 100 lifeguards this year. Last year they certified or recertified about 140 people.

“As much as we can do to support aquatic sports in our space, I will do,” Lukas said.

Despite the challenges, beach and pool managers are excited to be open. The Button Bay pool has been closed for two years due to the pandemic, which generated a lot of excitement when the pool opened on Memorial Day weekend.

Lukas adds that the great interest in swimming lessons keeps her optimistic. This spring, the YMCA has given swimming lessons to 300 children a week, the most Lukas has seen in 12 years at the pool.

“The volume is huge. Everyone is really excited to see everyone back here,” Lukas said. “For all of the staffing challenges, the positives are just amazing.”

Contact Blaise Siefer at 978-505-4363 or BSiefer@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Blaise_Siefer.

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