Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Lifeguard Shortage Limits Pool Openings Again

No lifeguards at beaches in 2022, limited pool openings.

By - May 20th, 2022 01:37 pm
The Washington Park pool. Photo by Alison Peterson.

The Washington Park pool. File photo by Alison Peterson.

Due to an ongoing lifeguard shortage that has plagued the Milwaukee County Parks system for the past several years, only a handful of pools will be open in 2022 and beaches will go unguarded.

The county will still open a number of wading pools and splash pads this summer. The pools being opened this season are listed below.

“While we’re only able to open a limited number of facilities this summer, we’ve worked closely with our partners, including Milwaukee Recreation and the City of Milwaukee, to ensure that equitable access to pools will still be available across the entire county,” said Parks Director Guy Smith in a statement.

When the parks department reported that they had only hired 52 lifeguards for the swim season in May 2021, the Milwaukee County Board passed a pay raise for lifeguards bumping starting pay up above $15 an hour, and included a number of bonuses that new and returning guards would be eligible for.

James Tarantino, director of business services for the parks department, said the pay increases likely wouldn’t affect recruitment until 2022. “This all, hopefully will bear fruit in summer 2022,” he said.

The pay increases may have had some effect, though not what parks needed. The department announced Thursday that it had hired 60 guards for the season, thus far, which is slightly more than the 52 hires at roughly the same time last year. To fully staff the pools and beaches would require approximately 200 lifeguards.

By June 2021, parks had brought the lifeguard numbers up to between 70 and 80.

There’s still one more opportunity to sign up to be a county lifeguard.

“The express session, ideal for strong swimmers, will take place Monday, May 23 to Thursday, May 26 from 5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. each night, at Pulaski Indoor Pool,” said the department in a statement. “Applicants will need to take part in the training sessions each day, and pass a test on Saturday May 28 at 8 a.m.”

The starting pay for guards this year is $16.14 an hour, and pay goes as high as $22 an hour depending on the position and associated certification.

The county has also partnered with Milwaukee Recreation, run by Milwaukee Public Schools, to provide lifeguard prep, and open swimming and lap swimming at six schools: Marshall High School, Vincent High School, Milwaukee High School of the Arts, North Division High School, Hamilton High School and Washington High School.

The county’s difficulty finding enough lifeguards is not unique. All across the country pools and parks systems are struggling to find enough lifeguards.

The board provided parks with extra funding in 2021 and 2022 to advertise and market the lifeguard positions, but the issue is likely due to more than awareness of job openings.

Potential lifeguards need to be strong swimmers, which means not everyone can pass the test, and a steady pipeline of well-trained swimmers is necessary to build a pool of applicants for the job. So the training for lifeguards often starts with kids, long before they’re eligible for the job.

They also require certifications that must be renewed. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, polls were closed and lifeguards may have had their certifications lapsed or pursued other jobs. As a seasonal job, the pandemic also disrupted the yearly return to pools and beaches that creates new head guards and keeps others coming back.

“COVID disrupted this whole natural tradition of guards moving up,” said Sup. Sheldon Wasserman, a former lifeguard and advocate for swimming lessons, in 2021,

The following pools, water parks and splash pads will be open for summer 2022:

Water Park

Deep Well Outdoor Pools

Splash Pads

Wading Pools

County Beaches (no lifeguards)

Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

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