Warm weather leads to increasing need of more lifeguards

Apr 28, 2023, 9:52 AM | Updated: 10:05 am

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)

Warm weather has many looking ahead to summer — and local city parks departments are making sure they have enough lifeguards to keep the beaches and pools safe.

Temperatures are expected to be in the upper 70s and low 80s across western Washington for the hottest weather of the year so far.

The warmth will have lots of people heading to beaches, lakes, rivers, and the Puget Sound.

Brandi Christman with Bellevue’s Parks and Community Services department says they’re raising wages, offering hiring bonuses, and upping recruiting efforts — especially at local high schools and colleges so that they can fully staff the beaches this summer to keep them open for everyone.

Near-perfect Northwest day ahead; Saturday glorious as well

“There’s been a nationwide, and honestly probably a worldwide, lifeguard shortage for at least 10 years,” Christman said. “But late spring going into the summer, we are looking okay. We definitely want more, though. I think we are really optimistic this year, and I would say that wasn’t the case for the past couple of years.”

If there is a shortage of lifeguards for Bellevue beaches, priority will be given to the most popular spots.

“Meydenbauer Beach comes to mind, Enatai Beach, Newcastle, those are our first points of contact where if we have the staff we know we are going to put them there first,” Christman said.

The City of Kirkland has done the same recruitment efforts to prevent any more shutdowns than can be avoided and says they expect to be fully staffed this year.

Jairid Hoehn with the Peter Kirk Community Center in Kirkland says he doesn’t expect any staffing problems this summer after the city raised the pay for lifeguards, starting at just over $18 an hour.

Seattle was also forced to close several beaches last year due to lifeguard shortages. The city has not said anything about its staffing numbers at the moment and whether they are planning to shut down any beaches this year.

With the warm weather, first responders are warning people of the dangers of cold water. Captain Ryan Hendricks of Swiftwater Lead for Eastside Fire & Rescue has a warning.

“I can tell you as rescuers, even with our protection, that water’s still cold,” said Hendricks. “I want people to know the water is still running very cold and very fast.”

Mountain snowmelt runoff is now replenishing the already cold water in the rivers, leading to temperatures in the 40-degree range. Once you get a foot or so below the surface, lakes are really cold too.

“The warmer layer will get deeper as we get into the summer, but right now you don’t have to go very far down before you hit those very cool temperatures,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Dana Felton told KIRO Newsradio.

Felton says that jumping into a frigid body of water can bring on cold water shock, which is when your body is “literally shocked by the cold temperature” and locks or freezes up. That’s one of the main reasons why people drown each year.

“It doesn’t take very long before you’re in trouble,” Felton said.

The Seattle Fire Department warns people to wear life jackets because cold water can cause people to be unable to move their muscles and get back to shore.

Many beaches across the Puget Sound region are open this weekend, but won’t be guarded until late June or early July, depending on the city.

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Warm weather leads to increasing need of more lifeguards