NYC pools scaling back swim programs due to nationwide lifeguard shortage

NYC pools scaling back swim programs due to nationwide lifeguard shortage

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NEW YORK —  A shortage of lifeguards has forced the city to cancel its free swim programs this summer, and a string of recent drownings in our area have highlighted the importance of swim safety.

In just the last two weeks 11 people have drowned in New York and New Jersey.

As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, it’s a tragic reminder of the potential summer danger some fear could only get worse.

Thirteen-year-old Liam Ayers just got back from a field trip Wednesday to the Jersey Shore.

“But we weren’t allowed to do anything major like go in the actual beach,” Ayers said.

Ayers loves to swim, but his teachers stopped him from stepping foot in the ocean.

“There’s no lifeguards on duty, so we’re not allowing you to go in,” Ayers said.

“When we’ve always gone to the Jersey Shore this time of year there was always lifeguards there and there was no question about if kids were allowed in the water or not, so that caught us off guard,” said Diedre Ayers, Liam’s mother.

Beaches and pools across the country are seeing a lifeguard shortage.

It’s so dire in New York City, the Parks Department announced it will not be hosting swim programs like Lap Swim, senior swim or learn to swim at outdoor public pools this summer.

Astoria residents Mike Ditota and Chelsea Morse weren’t thrilled to hear their 6-year-old will have to take swim classes elsewhere this summer.

“We literally live like right across the street from the pool, and we just look forward to it every single year,” Ditota told CBS2’s Elijah Westbrook.

“Also, to think that they’re paying you so little to actually be taking care of people’s lives is kind of the most important job. Like, between child care and making sure people are safe on beaches and pools is kind of one of the most important things you could do,” Morse added.

Before a lifeguard can touch the water, they’re required to have a certificate in first aid, and go through safety classes that can cost a couple hundred dollars just to complete.

“I think they’re realizing unless we pay them significantly more, which they deserve, why go into lifeguarding when not only do you need a lot of time and money to get that certificate, but that’s only your learner’s permit to get a job,” said Dr. Tom Griffiths, president of the Aquatic Safety Research Group.

In New York City, a lifeguard’s salary averages $16 an hour, $1 above minimum wage, but Mayor Eric Adams isn’t convinced a raise will help with the shortage.

“People are lifeguards, They do it for love of swimming, protecting people. They do it for several different incidents. It’s not about dollars and cents. It’s about having people enjoy being lifeguards,” Adams said.

Until the lifeguard chairs are full in the Tri-State Area, Liam Ayers will be swimming under the watchful eye of his mother.

“You just want them to have fun in the summer and be carefree and that’s not a thing that seems to be happening,” Diedre Ayers said.

Also, many places rely on temporary foreign workers to fill the gaps, but those visa programs are still badly backlogged.

“That’s interesting because now it’s affecting people on such a basic, recreational level, like now we’re talking about safety,” said Astoria resident Michael Das.

“All of us, of course, want to be sure that when we’re at the beach or pool, God forbid there’s an emergency, that there’s always someone we can call on, and they are the iconic lifeguard,” Brendan Fay added.

New York City pools officially open for the season June 28. They will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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