A lone lifeguard chair at 20th Street Gym watched over an empty pool on Thursday, indicating a shortage of lifeguards that is taking the breath away from many frontline facilities at the start of the summer. From Aurora to Denver to Boulder to Englewood, pools are closing, postponing opening day or staggering their hours because there aren’t enough lifeguards to staff them. “With the economy and the recovery from the pandemic, people aren’t coming out in the same amounts for jobs,” Denver City and County Recreation Director Leslie Pickard said.
She said frontline pools are recovering, but the return of COVID has been a surge, “200,000 people use Denver pools on average during the summer. We recruit all year round.
Nationally, up to half of the country’s 309,000 swimming pools are closing or adjusting swimming hours, according to BJ Fisher of the National Lifeguard Association. “It’s a crisis. It’s the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Fisher, who says the biggest risk from no lifeguards is the possibility of more children drowning this summer. especially on unstaffed beaches. “Parents will need to watch their children more closely.”
In Colorado, lifeguards must be at least 15 years old and must have CPR and first aid training to qualify. According to its website, American water sports and safety training takes 26.5 hours.
The Connecting Colorado job search website shows there are open lifeguard positions across the state, from Thornton to Delta to Pueblo and Crested Butte, offering from $14.35 to around $18.00. time.
Some Colorado parks and recreation departments are so desperate to staff their pools in time for the sweltering summer that they’re hiring on the spot, starting with wages just over $15 an hour plus incentives.
Aurora pays $16 an hour to start and is one of the few frontline parks and recreation departments with enough lifeguards to open its outdoor pools this weekend. “You really had to sweeten the pot to recruit. Not only do we pay for Red Cross certification, but we provide free use of our recreation center and opportunities for advancement,” said Erin Pulliam, Marketing Superintendent for the Department of Parks and Open Spaces. from Aurora.
Aurora is struggling, as are Boulder, Longmont, Denver and Englewood, where water sports director Brad Anderson has hired only 55 of the 125 lifeguards he needs to keep Pirate’s Cove running.
Instead of opening the season this weekend, Anderson was forced to postpone Pirate’s Cove’s summer start to June 4. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Anderson said. “We should have had kids here this weekend laughing, screaming and splashing around. It’s the worst I’ve seen in 38 years.
Anderson is offering $15 an hour and $1 lunches at the concession stand to anyone who completes the required Red Cross training. “I’m puzzled, but I think part of the reason kids don’t want to be lifeguards is they think they have to be Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps to do it,” Anderson said. “But you don’t have to be a kid on the swim team!”
NLA’s Fisher said the “Baywatch effect” of the 1990s has faded. “In the 90s, everyone wanted to be the tanned lifeguard with the great body running around the beach. We need another show like this to make the lifeguard role cool again,” said Fisher.
To show how awesome it is to be a lifeguard, the Longmont Parks and Recreation Department is actively shaking up teens by speaking their language with testimonials from lifeguards via TicToc videos. “We also host sports interviews at career fairs,” said Erica Illingworth, Marketing and Communications Manager.
In Aurora, life-size cutouts of real staff lifeguards looking strong and refreshed welcome teenagers to recreation centers where QRC codes are embedded in floor entrances
Months ago, the city of Boulder knew it would be a lean year, so parks and recreation officials brainstormed marketing ideas to attract would-be lifeguards. “We thought, ‘Okay, what would be a creative way to break into kids?’ said Jonathan Thornton, communications program manager. They created promotional signs that show a boy and a girl in bathing suits and flowy capes with the message: “Super Heroes Wanted”.
By the eleventh hour of the summer season, they only have 60% of the rescue personnel they need, so Boulder is forced to close Spruce Pool. The Scott Carpenter Park Pool will remain open.
Longmont is reducing its outdoor and waterfront pool hours. The Kanemoto and Roosevelt activity pools will be closed for the summer season for the third year in a row.
Denver had to sort out its pools, closing six of its indoor facilities on June 4 in order to keep 24 outdoor pools open. Denver Parks and Rec pays entry-level lifeguards $15.87 with time-and-a-half overtime pay opportunities.
Recreation officials are opening their minds as they solve the shortage of lifeguards, moving from the narrow scope of the traditional teenager or college summer worker to retirees who may be looking for something to do. Anderson of Pirate’s Cove said teenagers are distracted, college kids choose career internships over a whistle and a summer tan. “I like grownups. They’re reliable,” Anderson said.