Fayetteville keeps lifeguard staff filled despite national shortage

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- With a kick and a stroke, 6-year-old Caroline showed her mother what she can do in the water.

"She has always been a water baby," Allison Meyer said. "She loves to swim. We did lessons at the YMCA and she just absolutely loved it."

Also watching that day were lifeguards, a position that's hard to find in other parts of the country as the U.S. experiences a critical shortage of them.

"Many facilities and beaches will have to remain closed this summer, while others will offer shorter opening hours and limited services," the American Lifeguard Association said. "In addition, swimming pools will be struggling to stay open through the entire summer for the youth we rely on to staff these positions typically return to school in mid to late August."

The City of Raleigh said Thursday it is roughly 50% staffed and looking for 50 more lifeguards to support both year-round and seasonal pools.

Raleigh's four year-round pools are open but Ridge Road pool remains closed due to delayed delivery of equipment for needed repairs.

"I've already noticed that it's impacted where I am," Meyer said, who lives in Sanford. "There are no lifeguards in a lot of the pools. As a parent, it's difficult to find a pool."

In Fayetteville, it's a different story as the city reached its goal to hire 70 lifeguards and have candidates on stand-by to be hired as needed.

"It's a pretty popular job in Fayetteville, easy to do during the summer," 19-year-old Stella Maull said.

Maull, who's been a lifeguard for 5 years, said it's important to her to teach kids how to swim.

"It can get dangerous pretty quickly," she said.

There's six to eight lifeguards on duty at any given time at Fayetteville's four pools. The turnout wasn't out of thin air, but a result of hard work, according to Jodi Phelps.

"I think the retention of past staff is really key," Phelps said. "But I think what also worked well was partnerships."

The American Lifeguard Association said there's three main reasons that caused the lifeguard shortage.

"The first is that in the early days of the pandemic, lifeguard certification courses were canceled, meaning no new lifeguards were trained, and existing lifeguards could not renew their certifications," ALA said.

Phelps said the city worked with local organizations to accept other certifications as part of their effort.

"We also have a free certification program with Cumberland County Schools so we can certify CCCS students and try to get them to become a lifeguard," Phelps said. "Really get people interested on the front-end so we're not working so hard on the back-end to try to get those staff."

In the upcoming school year, Phelps said the city will continue their efforts, including working to retain the staff they have.

"We're always accepting applications for lifeguards year-round," Phelps said. "We know our residents love swimming, we know it's great during the summer, the kids love it, so to be able to provide that and to increase the pool hours is really key for us."
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