Swimming pools struggle to get supplies due to pandemic
Taking a lifeguard course is no easy task, but with the pandemic preventing people from entering swimming pools for the past year, the inability to train has made the task of becoming a lifeguard more difficult. difficult.
It has also become more difficult for Lane County and nationwide pools to find a sufficient number of lifeguards, causing concern for recreation centers trying to fully reopen.
Due to the pandemic keeping people indoors and swimming pools closed, this has kept people out of the water and therefore less likely to meet skill requirements, according to Victor Tilghman, acting director of water sports at the Eugene YMCA family.
In a recent lifeguard class with 12 people at the YMCA, four failed the pre-swim test, he said.
“Without lifeguards there will be more drownings because more pools will be closed due to the shortage of lifeguards, and people will find other places to swim – like lakes, ponds and rivers,” Tilghman said. “And people, especially children, haven’t had the opportunity to swim for over a year due to the COVID closures.”
Typically, in a group of 10, Tilghman added, one or two would fail, but the success rate only dropped with the pandemic. It also decreased the number of interns, he said. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of student lifeguards trained by Tilghman fell from around 30 before the pandemic to 20 this year, a notable drop.
Shortages also occur in municipal swimming pools. In pools in the town of Eugene, for example, there are currently fewer than 100 on staff to manage them, up from between 175 and 200 before the pandemic, according to Eugene recreation spokesperson Ben Schzorman. . Although Eugene’s Sheldon Pool is closed for renovations until next winter, the Echo Hollow Pool needs more staff as the facility has grown.
Schzorman said the staff shortage would “absolutely” affect the lineup, likely limiting his pool’s capacities and available space.
Along with the pandemic limiting swimming opportunities, it has forced people to reconsider monitoring swimmers from a financial perspective.
At Springfield’s Willamalane Park Swim Center, some lifeguards have left this year due to uncertainty that pools would remain open during the pandemic, said Whitney Hoshaw, community engagement supervisor.
“As we’ve been kind of open and closed and have fluctuated over the past year, we’ve lost a lot of our regular lifeguards who sort of went into more stable jobs that weren’t that related to. the opening of the pools, ”Hoshaw said. .
Until they got to a fuller workforce, the pool would likely only stay open in her current limited hours, she added.
Intensive training magnified
One of the reasons the number of rescuers is dropping is that the test itself is somewhat difficult to pass. This tends to weed out people who sometimes aren’t ready or genuinely interested in becoming a lifeguard, Tilghman said.
The preliminary test can be difficult, even with previous swimming experience. First, participants must swim 300 meters freestyle or breaststroke without stopping. They must then hover for two minutes without using their arms. Finally, the student must swim up to 20 meters and 7-10 meters deep to pick up a brick before returning to the wall with both hands on the brick in less than a minute and 40 seconds.
Some, like 15-year-old Nora Glick, who just finished her freshman year at South Eugene High School, said it wasn’t too difficult since she was on the swim team and had a lot of skills. swimming experience.
“I would say it’s pretty tough if you’re not a good swimmer, but I was on the swim team last year so I kind of prepared myself that way,” Glick said. . “And so just being generally in the water which often gave me the ability to do that sort of thing.”
The in-person training lasts approximately eight hours per day for a three-day weekend and includes an online component in the days leading up to it. Tilghman said some of those who passed the initial test failed because they were afraid to dive to get the brick, while others gave up the 300-meter swim earlier.
The dilemma with the number of lifeguards also occurs nationally on beaches. According to Tom Gill, spokesperson for the United States Lifesaving Administration, the pandemic has had a major impact by widening the disparities between rescue stations.
Because some better-off beaches already had a sufficient number of lifeguards, he said, the pandemic caused more difficulties for those overseeing beach surveillance who were already struggling to find enough staff.
“Really, what the pandemic has done has magnified – I hate to say it simply – the haves and have-nots,” said Gill.
Low pay has also become a problem, which he says is forcing people to reconsider their role as lifeguards.
“I think some people determined it just wasn’t worth the risk of the work going unpaid,” Gill said in an interview, adding that travel restrictions have hampered beaches that previously relied on incumbents. an international exchange program visa to be a lifeguard. .
At local swimming pools, the availability of lifeguard training courses has also been affected by the pandemic according to Tilghman, but there has been a recent resurgence of new training offerings.
In Willamalane, a lifeguard training program that has just started is a good sign that more staff are arriving, Hoshaw said. Registration for this course, which takes place over two weekends between July 9 and 18, is available at willamalane.org/fitness_and_swim/aquatics/lifeguard_certification.php.
Job offers for Willamalane lifeguards and other positions are also available on willamalane.org/district_info/employment.php.
Schzorman added that a course at Eugene has just started and another will be offered in July. Rescuers interested in the openings of the city of Eugene can apply to Governmentjobs.com/careers/eugene.
While many swimming pools have reopened on a limited basis, Tilghman said he expects most to resume normal operations in June or July, and said it looks promising they will remain open from the point view of the pandemic.
“A few months ago it wasn’t so sure,” he said. “You don’t want to hire people and then have to say ‘Sorry we’re not opening the pool this year'”