Friday, July 2, 2021, Texas: As Americans head back to beaches and pools this summer, there is a new warning for families: Swim at their own risk. Some parts of the country are experiencing a dire lifeguard shortage. Pool openings were actually delayed in Texas with reported that hundreds of lifeguard jobs were still available in early June.
National Water Safety Expert Jesse Guerra said, “Pool shortages and fewer lifeguards drastically increase the risk of swimming accidents and drownings. Parents should be on higher alert than usual for keeping their children and families safe. In addition to the key swim safety tips, families must be aware of this increased danger due to the lack of lifeguards this summer season.”
Tom Gill, Vice President of the U.S. Lifesaving Association, said, “There’s no substitute for safety, and the lifeguards are a part of the safety chain. The pandemic is largely to blame for the shortage. Towns are not able to hire, train, and certify new lifeguards fast enough, just as more Americans are flocking to waterfront destinations for the summer.”
Some pools have closed due to the staffing shortages. A few facilities have posted notices on Facebook and websites turning away eager pool-goers. In Austin, Texas, the rapidly growing city is trying to stay afloat with just 250 lifeguards registered with the city compared to 750 in a typical year. “We just don’t have the time to get the lifeguards trained and on the payroll for this summer,” said Jodi Jay of Austin Parks and Recreation.
There have been dangerous rescues and even fatal encounters in some areas that would typically be covered by lifeguards. Recently a 14-year-old girl in Michigan had to be airlifted in critical condition after and open water incident. In this case a lifeguard tower was standing empty, leaving the swimmers at the beach at a greater risk.
Experts say it’s even more important to make sure there’s a lifeguard on duty, even for strong swimmers. “When they’re on those lifeguard stands, they’re not waiting for the call, they’re there to keep people out of trouble,” Gill explained. “People that think they don’t need lifeguards are probably overestimating their abilities.”
Swimming is a great recreational sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. But it’s important to know how to be safe while you’re in the water. The American Red Cross offers these important swimming safety tips you should be aware of before you head out to the pool or beach: