Lifeguard shortages impact local pool operations


SIDNEY – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause shortages in multiple industries, extending to staffing for businesses. Public swimming pools around the country have not been spared, and the American Lifeguard Association estimated the shortage has impacted one-third of U.S. pools, which is expected to grow in August when school starts.

The Sidney Water Park has experienced similar problems due to the pandemic, but the pool has had trouble staffing lifeguards for eight to nine years prior, according to Duane Gaier, the Sidney parks director.

“It’s a national problem, not just Sidney, Shelby County or Ohio,” Gaier said. “There are many opinions as to why there is a shortage of lifeguard staffing: discussions about COVID, wages and required certification time and upfront the cost have been debated. These, along with youth priorities and year-round sports, have also been kicked around as the culprit. I believe it is a combination of all of these things.”

Gaier listed several additional reasons why lifeguard positions are unfavorable to people looking for a job.

“There are a lot of requirements for this role; stress and distraction, especially when the bathing load is large, heat, continual scanning of the water, keeping people from running on the deck and horseplay in the water are just a few of the things that the guards are required to do, plus the save that they make in the pools when there is a struggling swimmer,” Gaier said.

The Sidney Water Park did not open during the height of the pandemic in 2020 due to the Ohio Department of Health’s (ODH) requirements limiting patrons per square foot and staffing. Before the shutdowns and deciding to not open, pool management considered reimbursing lifeguards for the cost of their certification and funding the training and certification by the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA – as long as the trainees would agree to work for the Sidney Water Park for the season – to try to remedy the staffing issue.

This year, the whole facility has had to close one day due to staffing. On other days when staff are limited, SwimSafe Pool Management, Inc., the company that handles staffing for the Sidney Water Park, has decided to close certain pools inside the water park or close early, according to Gaier. To be fully operational with all pools open, the Sidney Water Park needs 12 lifeguards for the full day.

After multiple years of employee struggles, the Sidney pool decided to hire SwimSafe to find lifeguards in 2021 since the company works with several communities and has access to more lifeguard candidates, Gaier said. No candidates showed up to a recent hiring event at the pool despite extensive advertising efforts, but with the help of SwimSafe, four new, certified lifeguards have been hired.

“This is not how we and SwimSafe want to operate the Sidney Water Park,” Gaier said. “Both organizations are doing their best to open as much of the water park as possible. This has to be done safely, making sure that there are guards for every chair, along with giving the required and needed breaks.”

The Minster Municipal Swimming Pool is smaller than the Sidney Water Park, but it is still facing issues finding lifeguards who can work certain days and hours since many of its lifeguards have school commitments, according to Don Harrod, the Minster village administrator. The Minster pool was open at limited capacity during the pandemic. It does not use an outside company to hire lifeguards, and five to six lifeguards are put on each shift.

“We are having some discussions about what we can do to expand our current efforts to get more lifeguards, but we have taken no action so far,” Harrod said.

One current benefit at the Minster pool for lifeguards is reimbursement for those with a lifeguard license. The village is also considering increasing the lifeguards’ wages.

Any questions for the Sidney Water Park about reimbursement of season passes or inquiries about a lifeguard position should be directed to the parks office at 937-498-8155.

By Charlotte Caldwell

[email protected]

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

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