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As pools open, hiring lifeguards remains a challenge

Lifeguarding lacks the popularity it once had during the "Baywatch" era, but more towns are offering incentives to bolster the ranks.
As pools open, hiring lifeguards remain a challenge
Posted at 6:33 PM, May 28, 2023

Across the country, beaches, pools and other water venues are being left without proper staffing. And this includes lifeguards.

"It has been an ongoing struggle to get in and retain lifeguards over the years," said Wyatt Werneth with the American Lifeguard Association.

He believes the job lacks popularity these days and reflects on the impact the show, “Baywatch," had on previous generations of lifeguards.

"Baywatch was so exciting. It was a career filled with excitement and beautiful people, helicopters, fast boats. We wanted to be lifeguards, and we don't have anything like that now," says Werneth.

The pandemic depleted already shrinking rosters in 2020. But Werneth says many of the lifeguards who returned still wound up finding work elsewhere. Now, some communities are taking proactive measures.

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In Phoenix, city officials are going on Year 2 of offering a $3,000 incentive to people who don a swimsuit and whistle for the summer.

"It's important that we train lifeguards and keep them in the system and incentivize and treat them well because we want them to stay with us," said Adam Waltz with the City of Phoenix's Parks and Recreation Department.

In Nashville, they're giving local 15- to 24-year-olds a chance to test the lifeguarding waters and still get paid.

What do these efforts have in common? They're both targeting a younger audience and are working to bring in the next generation of lifeguards. Something Werneth says has already shown progress in other parts of the world, like Australia.

"They start training their young individuals to be what they call nippers. And that is they come out into elementary school, and they start learning surf rescue, ocean confidence, and swimming at a young age," explains Werneth.

Several reasons can be blamed for slim staffing, but Werneth believes teaching kids about water safety and introducing them to lifeguarding at a young age can help turn the tide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 4,000 people accidentally drown each year.

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