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Advice for municipalities dealing with summer lifeguard shortage

The capital region isn't the only area seeing public pools closing, amid summer heat, due to a lack of staffing.
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Ottawa and Gatineau may have to revisit their strategies to attract and retain lifeguards, so that pools can stay open during the hottest weeks of the year.

That's the message from Lifesaving Society Public Education Director Barbara Byers, who told 1310 NEWS' The Rick Gibbons Show it's become a problem in the capital region and across the province.

The City of Ottawa keeps 1,100 lifeguards on staff, but still some residents have complained that they have shown up to public pools which have been shut down due to a lack of staffing.

"It is particularly challenging when it's hot hot weather and people, of course, wait all year for this lovely hot weather in the summer," said Byers. "People want to go swimming, and it's very very frustrating to come to a pool and find out that the pool's closed early or it's not open because of staffing. So I completely understand why people would be outraged."

Listen to the full conversation with Lifesaving Society Public Education Director Barbara Byers:

During the summer heat waves, some municipalities will extend pool hours by between two and four hours.

Byers said a study by the Lifesaving Society showed that students who typically work part-time jobs, such as lifeguarding, now have many demands for their time, including academics and other activities. This means municipalities might not be able to count on lifeguarding staff to work as many hours as they have in the past.

The key to fixing this problem, according to Byers, will be to start them early. 

"If you can get them in at 12 or 13, get them to be volunteers and shadow some lifeguards, then they can become a locker room attendant, then they become a junior lifeguard," she explained. "That way you've got them, you keep them, and then you help encourage them and promote them through the various life-saving courses."

Paying lifeguards more might also help.

Byers said lifeguard jobs do not pay as much as they once did. The gap between what they make opposed to someone who works a part-time fast food or retail job is narrowing. She thinks municipalities should better recognize the effort and achievements someone must accomplish in order to become a lifeguard.




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