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Lifeguard shortage may be putting swimmers at risk

Demanding training may be one reason behind the lifeguard shortage  

June 13, 1999
Web posted at: 8:57 p.m. EDT (0057 GMT)

From Reporter Deborah Feyerick

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Summertime is here, and that means it's time for sun and fun. But a critical shortage of lifeguards in some parts of the country may be putting the safety of swimmers at risk in pools and beaches.

For example, as of early June, the state of Massachusetts has been able to fill only 65 percent of its job openings and is more than 100 lifeguards short.

"This is the first year in 12 years that I've had to cancel a lifeguarding class because of lack of enrollment," says Shawn DeRosa of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management.

Gerald Dworkin, who travels the country training lifeguards, says the problem isn't limited to New England.

"I've heard from people in California, Ohio. I've heard from people all over the East Coast," he says. "I think it's a national trend and a national problem that we're dealing with."

Indeed, officials from South Carolina, Miami, Pennsylvania and Maine all say they can't recruit enough lifeguards.

So what's causing this shortage? After all, being a lifeguard looks so glamorous on "Baywatch."

One reason, lifeguard supervisors say, is the demanding training, including that for CPR and other lifesaving techniques. It also costs several hundred dollars to train and get certified -- for a job that starts at between $8 and $10 a hour.

There are exceptions to the shortage. In places like Santa Monica, California, lifeguarding is a career, and the pay is $18 a hour. Jones Beach on Long Island also has no shortage, with young swimmers competing to fill 50 spots on a staff that already numbers 400.

But other states have had to take aggressive measures. Some places in New York now start recruiting in the dead of winter. In parts of New Jersey, pay has been raised from $40 to $75 a day.

Pennsylvania has tried a different approach, instituting a policy that basically says "Swim at your own risk."

Without better training programs run by cities and states, some predict that the lifeguard shortage will only get worse.

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