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Lifeguard shortage could see some Seattle beaches closed to swimmers

Jun 1, 2022, 6:57 PM

helicopters patrolling beaches...

People playing beach volleyball on the beach at Alki Beach in West Seattle, Washington State, USA. (Photo by: Wolfgang Kaehler/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Photo by: Wolfgang Kaehler/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

For the second summer in a row, the City of Seattle is facing a lifeguard shortage at its beaches and pools.

But the city will be hosting a series of hiring fairs over the next few days in the hopes that recruiting more lifeguards will help prevent beach and pool closures this summer.

Seattle Parks and Recreation operates nine beaches, eight outdoor pools, and two indoor pools. Last summer, the Seward Park and East Green Lake beaches had to be closed to swimmers because of the lifeguard shortage.

So far, this year is not looking too different.

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“We’re in a similar place as last year, to be honest … Honestly, we have about half [the lifeguards we need],” said Rachel Schulkin, communications manager for Seattle Parks and Recreation. “We typically have somewhere around a staff of about 400 lifeguards, and we’re around 200 at this point.”

The general worker shortages many workplaces are experiencing, as well as the fact that the city’s mandatory lifeguard training got shut down for a year during the pandemic, are all leading to the shortage.

This will likely result in certain beaches being closed all summer. Schulkin said the city typically opts to close a beach for the entire season, instead of just cutting hours or days a week, so that people do not mistakenly go swimming there on a day when there is no lifeguard and it is not safe to swim.

“Unfortunately, we already know we’re not going to be able to staff all of our beaches,” Schulkin said. “And so we’ll pick a few beaches that unfortunately we won’t be able to lifeguard this summer.”

Exactly which locations would be closed is still being worked out, as the schedule is not out yet — though the hope is that the hiring fair will mitigate some of these closures. The schedule should be out within the next week.

“The lucky thing is that we guard Green Lake and Lake Washington beaches. They all are not that far from each other — we are blessed in beaches here,” Schulkin said. “So hopefully, folks can find their way to the next nearest beach.”

Seattle Parks and Rec will be co-hosting hiring fairs with the YMCA of Greater Seattle from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday at Magnuson Park, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the West Seattle YMCA, and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Rainier Beach Community Center.

Schulkin said both permanent and temporary lifeguard positions are available, as well as part-time and full-time jobs. Pay starts around $20 per hour and can be as high as $26 for more experienced lifeguards. Strong swimming skills are necessary, but training will be provided.

Seattle Parks and Rec is not the only city agency facing a lifeguard shortage.

The City of Bellevue said it is also short about 15 lifeguards for its beaches and aquatic center, and is in the process of recruiting more. It is still being determined whether any Bellevue beaches will close this summer.

“As we get closer to the start of the summer season on June 25, we will make decisions about how to allocate staff resources,” said Christina Faine, public information officer for Bellevue Parks and Community Services, in an email.

Tacoma is also looking for lifeguards for its three indoor and two outdoor pools. Like Seattle, Tacoma also had to limit swimming last year due to a shortage of lifeguards, though Tacoma chose to decrease hours at certain pools instead of shutting them down entirely. Rosemary Ponnekanti, Metro Parks Tacoma’s public information officer, said the city is looking at a similar policy this year if there are not enough lifeguards hired in the coming weeks.

Follow Nicole Jennings on Twitter or email her here

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