Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Has Open Call for Lifeguards

Parks department hopes to improve lifeguard numbers, open more pools this year.

By - Jan 18th, 2023 03:35 pm
The Washington Park pool. Photo by Alison Peterson.

The Washington Park pool without any life guards. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Every Saturday for the next six weeks Milwaukee County Parks is holding free lifeguard training classes at Noyes Park in a bid to staff enough lifeguards to open more pools this summer than the few that were open last year.

But that’s not all. The department is also holding classes at Pulaski Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays or Mondays and Wednesdays. The first class starts Saturday, Jan. 21. Any potential applicants can still sign up for a timeslot or just show up as a walk-in. The department has a full list of sessions between January and March on its website.

Applicants must be in good physical shape and be able to swim 100 meters in 1 minute and 45 seconds or less. The starting pay for the job is $16.47 an hour.

The parks department does not accept lifeguard certifications from the American Red Cross or the YMCA. “All lifeguards are required to complete their training and testing through the Parks with a four-part program, developed from over 50 years of outstanding lifeguarding experience,” the department said.

The parks certification program begins with training sessions prior to the start of the season and continues through the end of the summer. Lifeguards go through in-water training, a civil service physical performance exam, an emergency medical responder course and training on-site during the summer. “Because of our in-depth and extensive training program, lifeguards are not fully certified until the end of the summer season.”

The Lifeguard Shortage

Milwaukee County Parks has been caught up in a national lifeguard shortage.

For the last several years parks has not been able to open all its pools budgeted for operations during the summer because it was short guards. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Bradford Beach has gone unguarded.

In 2022, the county was only able to open five of the 11 deep-well outdoor pools in the system. This was despite a major investment in marketing and recruitment of lifeguards, and an increase in wages. Parks would need approximately 200 guards to staff the entire system. In recent years, it been short more than 50% of the necessary guards.

The county board passed an amendment to the 2023 budget that sets aside more than $1 million for the department that it can use, among other things, to open additional aquatic facilities. The parks department estimated it would cost approximately to $2 million to operate the entire system.

The COVID-19 pandemic was an accelerant for the lifeguard shortage, as it closed pools all over Milwaukee County that would regularly be used for swim classes and lifeguard trainings. This disrupted the training system and seasonal rhythm of returning guards. In 2022, parks kept two indoor pools open throughout the year at Noyes and Pulaski parks to improve guards’ retention by retaining a corps of guards throughout the year.

“We had a very dedicated lifeguard corps that I was very proud of this year,” Executive Director Guy Smith said last fall.

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

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