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Long Island's beaches and pools need more lifeguards

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Being a lifeguard, a staple of summer employment, has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, as there is a shortage of lifeguards across the nation and on Long Island.

The Lynbrook Municipal Pool in Greis Park is short staffed for the summer but expects to operate with business as usual. “Luckily we did have many people return for staff this year but we’ve been facing a shortage ... so we have been struggling a little bit with our scheduling,” Lifeguard supervisor Carolyn Berghorn said. “... We are understaffed right now by at least 10 guards but hopefully those numbers will fill out about halfway through the summer.”

Some facilities will be unable to open or will have to reduce hours. The YMCA of Long Island fears they may not be able to run their regular summer programming. “We have hired about 100 lifeguards thus far and still need a minimum of 30 more to run our summer day camp programs and swim lessons,” Tamar Simpson, a spokesperson for the YMCA of Long Island, said. “… We hope to fill these positions or we will need to limit our program offerings to kids and families as a last resort.”

The Covid-19 pandemic caused the shutdown of many businesses last year and few lifeguard-training centers were able to remain open as essential businesses. This left many unable to meet the certification requirements necessary to be a lifeguard this season. 

Many lifeguards also found themselves out of shape and unable to pass the physical recertification tests, said Motti Eliyahu, owner of the Valley Stream-based Lifeguard Training NY.

The American Red Cross began offering certification extensions and online provisional certification courses last year, Training services manager Nichole Steffens said, but a physical session would still be necessary at a later date.

Businesses hiring lifeguards have begun to eclipse the minimum wage of $14 an hour. Some places are also offering a finder’s fee, payment for training courses and even housing for the summer.

“What we’re seeing is companies and facilities – beach clubs, yacht clubs, marinas, day camps, sleepaway camps on Long Island – they all start now at about $17 an hour all the way up to $30 an hour for our 15 and 16 year old lifeguards,” Eliyahu said. “... There’s a lot of different incentives out there right now that companies are hiring and fighting over to hire people as a lifeguard to work at their facility.”

Sandy Hollow Day Camp in Southhampton typically hires three lifeguards for the summer. The camp is offering $30 an hour and is paying for additional water safety certification necessary for their Aquatics Director.

Beth Hughes Barrie, the owner and director, says they have never had such a hard time filling the positions, though they expect to have them all filled this summer. “It’s never easy to fill all the positions ... but this year it’s been exceptionally difficult,” Barrie said.

Public beaches on Long Island face fewer problems hiring staff. Atlantic Beach has filled all their village beach lifeguard positions and Long Beach expects no problems hiring for the season.  Jones Beach had a large hiring last summer and possibly will not need to hire at all this year, lifeguard supervisor Cary Epstein said.

Eliyahu says it is expected that beaches have an easier time hiring. “Usually to become a beach lifeguard, the first step is becoming a pool lifeguard. People are upgrading, last year and this year, from pool lifeguard to beach lifeguard,” he said. “Not a lot of people are taking the first step of becoming a pool lifeguard as much as they used to.”

Epstein hopes that more people take lifeguard-training courses in the next few weeks now that Covid restrictions are lifted and more pools are opening. “The good news is, there are pools that are opening now and there are lifeguard training classes that are starting now,” Epstein said. “While Memorial Day has passed – the unofficial start to summer – hopefully in the next several weeks leading into the July 4th weekend, maybe we won't catch up completely, but hopefully people are going take some of these classes.”