Lifeguard shortage plagues Raleigh swimming pools

RALEIGH, NC — Employee shortages are an issue facing nearly every industry, including lifeguards. With school out for the summer, the city of Raleigh is actively recruiting so they can open all four seasonal pools this summer.

What do you want to know

  • City of Raleigh Parks short of 50-60% lifeguards for summer season
  • They are looking to hire 75 lifeguards
  • Lifeguard starting salary starts at $13

In order to be fully operational at Raleigh’s eight pools, 75 additional lifeguards need to be hired, trained and certified.

“We’re 50-60% short of the custodial staff we would have for our summer season,” Raleigh Parks assistant manager Ken Hissler said.

Salaries for lifeguards have increased to $13 an hour this year.

Normally, the city’s seasonal pools open on Memorial Day weekend, but that wasn’t the case this year.

During recreational swimming at the Pullen Aquatic Center, eight to 10 lifeguards are needed to keep the pool fully operational, with all lanes open. However, Tricia Severa, the facility’s manager for 20 years, says they only have half that.

“I probably have four, plus a cashier and a manager,” Severa said.

Unattended guard chairs require pool employees to close sections of the pool and limit swim lessons.

“The lack of lifeguards, oftentimes we’re all sitting in the guard chair just so we can either stay open, or keep a section open, or continue a class,” Severa said.

Depending on the day, Severa works as a manager, the reception as a cashier or uses her lifeguard certificate since she was 15 years old.

“I’m still here as a lifeguard, like I was 15,” Severa said.

In order to fill vacant guard positions, the city of Raleigh increased the starting salary for lifeguards by $4. They will now earn between $13 and $15 per hour. They also held two hiring events at the Pullen Aquatic Center.

“When people arrive and they are interested, we do the initial water test. If they pass, we will enroll them in the Red Cross training program to get them certified as lifeguards. We typically only see about 30% of applicants interested in lifeguards who pass the certification program,” Hisler said.

Although they managed to get through the winter and spring with a reduced staff, Severa says that with the end of the school year, more people will be looking to go swimming.

“A little scary as to what’s going to happen next week with all the kids out of school, and they all want to come swim,” Severa said.

North Carolina is not the only state affected by the shortage of lifeguards.

According to the American Lifeguard Association, a third of all public swimming pools in the country are not expected to open this summer, and the situation is only expected to get worse.

Bernard Fisher, director of ALA, says half of the pools across the country will be affected by the end of the summer due to the shortage of lifeguards.

“We’re going in the wrong direction, this is where we’re going. We have to train very aggressively across the country. It’s almost patriotic to come out and help your community,” Fisher said.

Fisher says 600,000 people would need to become certified lifeguards in order to address the national shortage.

“We didn’t even hit normal training enrollment last spring. We only have half of the pre-pandemic enrollment. We thought as we approached Memorial Day weekend, we would have a slight increase, but we didn’t do it,” Fisher said.

Starting June 10, the City of Raleigh plans to open a seasonal pool per weekend. Biltmore Pool and Longview Pool will operate weekends on a rotating basis, with one pool open each weekend.

Lake Wheeler Park will open daily on June 20.

Year-round lap pools will continue to be open daily, staff permitting. The Buffalo Road Aquatic Center will be open for recreational swimming and swimming lessons with limited hours.

If you are interested in a lifeguard position with the City of Raleigh, click here.

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