Shortages of all kinds are common these days. Now it is the rescuers who are missing.
The shortage affects about a third of public pools across the country, leading some public pools to reduce hours or close altogether, according to the American Lifeguard Association. And he says the shortage could extend into next year.
Pools in Raleigh, St. Louis, New Orleans, Austin are seeing the effects. In Raleigh, half of the city’s pools remain closed, ABC11 reported Friday.
The pandemic has taken its toll on the number of lifeguards. That meant two years of very little lifeguard training and expiring certifications on top of that, Bernard J. Fisher II, health and safety director for the lifeguards association, told NPR.
After a shortage of lifeguards 20 years ago, which Fisher says was due to the development of condos and hotels that needed lifeguards, thousands of people from Eastern Europe came to the United States with J-1 visas for vital jobs. The industry has come to rely heavily on these visa holders, he said.
Trump’s rhetoric on work visas helped spark lifeguard shortage
But the Trump administration has sent “shockwaves through this region,” Fisher said.
“Right before the pandemic, we really had a problem because we lost the majority of J-1 visa students, and then of course the pandemic hit,” Fisher told NPR. “It was the straw in the camel’s back that broke everything.”
During the first months of the pandemic, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation pausing a number of work visas, including the J-1. International travel was difficult. And the pools were closed too.
President Biden has let the ban on temporary work visas expire. Still, Fisher says recovering from the shortage will take time.
“We will have a shortage of lifeguards next year,” he said. “It’s going to take years to get out of this because, you know, the situation for Eastern Europeans is not good geographically for the candidates to come.”
Swim instructors urged to switch to lifeguard duty
Now, amid the shortage, some communities are asking swim instructors to work as lifeguards instead, Fisher said. Still, one of the ways to prevent drowning is to learn to swim as early as possible, he added.
With fewer lifeguards on the chairs, water safety is especially critical, Fisher said.
Fisher stressed the importance of designating a water spotter – someone in the group who will keep a watchful eye on the children. Children who are beginning swimmers should also wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets whether they’re at the beach or in a community pool, he added.
“So many times, groups think someone else is watching, but in fact no one is watching,” Fisher said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for years. And especially this year, it’s very important.”