The weather is heating up and millions of people, weary from COVID-19 restrictions, are headed to beaches and local pools, but, warns one expert, a nationwide shortage of lifeguards could turn summer activities into “a total disaster come August.”
Bernard J. Fisher II, the American Lifeguard Association’s director of health and safety, says of the dearth of lifeguards that “he’s never seen it this bad” and warns it poses an urgent threat to pools, beaches, and water parks and to those who visit them.
“I can almost call it a ground zero,” he told Fox News Digital.
To drive home his point, Fisher likened the shortage to another that Americans are currently enduring, claiming the lack of lifeguards is just “as bad” as the country’s baby formula shortage.
What’s more, said Fisher, we “haven’t seen the worst.”
Already, according to Fox, the shortage is “impacting about a third of the country’s 309,000 public pools.” In response, many of the popular facilities have opted to either limit their hours or shut their doors.
Add to those the shortages at beaches, water parks and other facilities, and Fisher fears the nation’s children will be the ones to suffer most.
“These kids — they’ve had so much hardship on them with the pandemic,” he said. “And now when the temperatures go to triple digits in a lot of our cities during the summer, we’re not even going to have a community pool open for them.”
“I’m actually ashamed of how some municipalities threw in the towel so early,” he added.
Fisher said there are many reasons behind the demand for lifeguards, but many of them can be traced back to the pandemic.
At the very outset of COVID-19, back in 2020, lifeguard certification courses were canceled. Lifeguards could not renew their certifications and those who wanted to join the field could not receive training.
As pools were closed to “flatten the curve,” many lifeguards took jobs in other sectors that paid them more money, so even when the pools reopened, they weren’t willing to take the pay cut and return.
Foreign workers were brought in to fill the gaps on a temporary basis, but, according to Fisher, those programs have either been delayed or are backlogged — again, thanks to the pandemic.
And it’s only going to get worse, as the high school and college students who typically represent a large part of the professional pool of lifeguards return to school.
“It’s going to get worse,” he stated. “It’s going to be a total disaster in August, the hottest month of the year.”
Great. Now there's a lifeguard shortage. We're doomed. https://t.co/3aB1kkc2Ru
— @Matthew Betley 🇺🇸 (@MatthewBetley) June 10, 2022
The unintended consequences of those early pandemic measures, said Fisher, will be felt for years.
“You cannot shake a foundation and put shock waves through it and not expect repercussions for years to come,” he said.
Getting back to a pre-pandemic “norm” is far more difficult than one might imagine.
The country’s top lifeguard training centers have historically seen 300,000 trainees each year. In 2020, Fisher explained, there was “pretty much” no one signing up to be trained, and last year, only about half the normal amount of prospective lifeguards enrolled.
Just to get back to normal employment levels, the number of lifeguards would need to at least double to 600,000 recruits per year.
Pop culture may also be playing a part in the crisis.
While baby boomers loved “Baywatch” and wanted to be part of that scene, most of the boomer lifeguards are retiring, and the younger generation just doesn’t appear to be as inspired by the job.
One possible fix to the returning students problem, suggested Fisher, would be to pull those boomers who are still physically up to the job out of retirement
“They’re responsible candidates,” he noted. “Many are very good swimmers.”
There’s a formula shortage. A tampon shortage. A child care worker shortage. A camp counselor shortage. A lifeguard and swim lessons shortage.
America to moms: Best of luck with all that!
— Audrey Goodson Kingo (@AudreyNGoodson) June 9, 2022
If summer is to be saved — not just this year, but in the future — something must be done, because the problem is snowballing.
Swim instructors are being called on to fill lifeguard positions, meaning they aren’t available to train new lifeguards.
“It’s a snowball effect,” Fisher said. “Every swim instructor must be certified in lifeguarding in order to be certified as a swim instructor. But that’s a person you can take and put in the chair.”
Until the problem is remedied, the bottom line, said Fisher, is that parents need to make a point of teaching their children how to swim and not rely on lifeguards to babysit their kids.
Most importantly, he said, is to always designate a “water watcher” whenever the kids are swimming.
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