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New England News

Lifeguard Shortage Threatens City's Summer Plans

an empty lifeguard chair at a swimming pool
WAMC
/

Plans to fully resume summer recreation programs in Springfield, Massachusetts have run up against a shortage of workers. 

Emerging from the pandemic that kept most public gathering spots closed or limited to small gatherings, Springfield was going to get its summer back, Mayor Domenic Sarno announced in April.

"Our plans are to open up the pools and waterways as we move forward," Sarno said.

But now, some city pools and swim sites are in danger of not opening next month because of a critical shortage of lifeguards, said Sarno.

"That is a phenomenon unfortunately across the nation," Sarno said. "I have increased the pay substantially to get lifeguards."

The city is offering to pay lifeguards $18 per hour, an increase of $3. But, as of Monday, only 18 of 60 lifeguard positions had been filled.

Before the city can hire someone as a lifeguard they need to be trained and certified – a process that was disrupted during the pandemic.

Questioned by City Councilors this week, parks director Patrick Sullivan said enough lifeguards have been hired to staff the pools at Forest Park and Camp Star Angelina.  But other sites, including the popular Five Mile Pond, might not be able to open as planned.

"We have gotten the word out, the mayor has increased the budget so we hope to get more (lifeguards) hired next week," Sullivan said.

All of the city’s pools and swim sites were closed last summer.

In addition to lifeguards, there are about a dozen openings for youth recreation leaders.

 Summer jobs with the city’s Department of Parks, Buildings, and Recreation Management are classified as seasonal and applications must be made by July 5th.

City Councilor Kateri Walsh said she is surprised these once coveted summer jobs are going begging.

"I think over the years, we have all heard from people who wanted those jobs," Walsh said.

Kevin Lynn, executive director of the MassHire Springfield Career Center, believes part of the reason for the lifeguard shortage may be a hesitancy to resume close-contact activities, but he said a larger factor is a change in attitude about summer employment.

"It used to be that a young person would get a summer job and the thought was you had a job for the summer and that was great, but now it seems to be if I have employment it has to be somehow related to a career track," Lynn said. "If I am working as a lifeguard, what is that going to do for me in the future?"

He said there is little Springfield, or other municipalities, can offer at this point to entice more people to apply for summer jobs.

"Across the board, we're not seeing anyone apply for anything, and that is a huge problem shaking loose the labor pool," Lynn said. "The government now -- local government in this case -- are feeling what the private sector is feeling."

There have been more than 18 drownings in Massachusetts since mid-May, a number much higher than in recent years, according to the Boston Globe.   Safety experts told the paper that warmer than normal temperatures, the lifeguard shortage, and the cancellation of swimming classes during the pandemic all factor into the surge of drownings.

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