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Lifeguard Shortages Affecting California Swimming Pools

Patch logo Patch 6/12/2022 Emily Rahhal
Cities across California will be forced to reduce pool hours and shut down lifeguard towers amid a nationwide lifeguard shortage. © Nicole Charky/Patch Cities across California will be forced to reduce pool hours and shut down lifeguard towers amid a nationwide lifeguard shortage.

CALIFORNIA — California is no exception as cities across the United States shut public pools and reduce hours amid lifeguard shortages.

Nationally, about a third of pools either won’t open or will limit hours due to lifeguard shortages, American Lifeguard Association Director Bernard J. Fisher II told Newsweek.

“Regretfully, it's probably going to be the worst summer,” he said. “We have 309,000 public pools in the U.S. but we don't have the youth in the ratio to the population.”

Cities across the Golden State will have to get creative as they gear up for summer.

Up north, the city of Santa Clara is short 40 lifeguards heading into summer. Some of the city's pools will only open two days a week — down from the usual six — with fewer swimming lessons, according to NBC Bay Area. Neighboring areas like Danville and San Jose have been forced into last minute pool closures and adjusting summer programming.

"Water safety is our top priority, and we want to make sure that Danville families have the best experience in our pools and programs this summer," said Henry Perezalonso, Recreation, Arts and Community Services Director for the town of Danville.

Farther down south, areas in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles have also felt the pressure coming into summer.

Seal Beach, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach all saw a dramatic decrease in applicants for lifeguarding positions heading into summer, according to CBS News.

"Normally we would get 30-40 people to come and apply — and usually we need to hire 10-12, so the numbers usually work out pretty good," Seal Beach Marine Safety/Lifeguard Chief Joe Bailey told CBS News. "This year we had eight people show up to our tryout."

Orange County beach goers told CBS News that the lifeguard shortage was "terrifying," and expressed concern putting their kids in the water.

Some Oceanside lifeguard towers will close this summer due to staffing shortages, the fire department told Fox5. Oceanside is down 12 lifeguards. To correct, the department will have to place staff at the most hazardous areas.

"We try to make it as safe as possible. However, once the shortage, we can’t just put anybody in a tower,” Oceanside Fire Department Lieutenant Emile Lagendijk told Fox5.

In Los Angeles, cities like Calabasas have drastically shortened their pool hours.


Video: With Nationwide Lifeguard Shortage, Pool Access Changing (CBS Denver)

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The COVID-19 pandemic contributed, as it has regarding labor shortages in other aspects of life.

But with lifeguards, it’s more complicated than that. The pandemic meant fewer training opportunities both to become lifeguards and to recertify, Fisher told NPR.

And on top of that, the lifeguard shortage existed before the pandemic, driven by an abrupt change in immigration policy, Fisher said.

Lifeguards found better opportunities at condos and hotels about 20 years ago, leading municipalities and others to rely mainly on Eastern Europeans with J-1 visas allowing them to work in the United States, Fisher told NPR.

J-1 and other temporary visas that allowed skilled professionals and managers to work in the United States were suspended in April 2020, which President Donald Trump said at the time was to protect American jobs as COVID-19 restrictions increased unemployment. In June, he extended the pause on J-1 work visas and other temporary visas through the end of the year.

“That was the straw in the camel’s back that broke everything down,” Fisher said.

The ban expired under President Biden but Fisher told NPR the lifeguard shortages will persist at least through next year and likely longer.

In the meantime, it’s important for kids who are novice swimmers to wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved jackets in the water and for groups to designate a water watcher to keep an eye on kids, Fisher said.

Drowning Looks Different Than You Think

Drowning happens more quietly in real life than it does on TV. In some cases, children drown with an adult only a few feet away.

More children ages 1-4 die from drowning than from any other cause of death except birth defects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For children ages 1-14, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.

The CDC says about 3,960 people die from drowning every year, or about 11 people a day. Additionally, there are more than 8,080 non-fatal drownings a year, or an average of 22 a day, according to CDC data.

You might expect to see flailing arms or hear a frantic call for help when someone is drowning, but drowning doesn’t look the way you may think it does. Real-life drowning happens quietly and not at all like the dramatic scenarios that play out on television. People can’t simply stop drowning long enough to take in a breath of air and call for help. The human body isn’t built that way.

Before people drown, they may thrash around in the water — a sign they’re in “aquatic distress,” which may or may not happen before a drowning. They’re normally able to assist in their own rescue by grabbing lifelines, throw rings and other devices.

A true drowning victim is most often helpless. That’s because of how the body instinctively responds to drowning, according to lifeguard Francesco Pia, who came up with the name Instinctive Drowning Response to describe the process.

Rescuers have as few as 20 seconds and up to a minute to save a person from drowning.

To know what drowning looks like, the Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine originally published five tips for recognizing drowning that was shared by Slate.

The article Lifeguard Shortages Affecting California Swimming Pools appeared first on Malibu Patch.

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