Lifeguard pool drying up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2007

With the approach of Memorial Day, most people can&8217;t wait to hit the pool. YMCA Aquatics Director Jennifer Dick is just hoping to staff one.

Dick, who needs 50 lifeguards at the Shelby County YMCA pool, has only 24.

&8220;I don&8217;t know what&8217;s going on,&8221; she said, adding other pools are calling her, asking for extra staff.

Even the training classes offered at the YMCA, the only authorized provider of Red Cross curriculum in Shelby County, showed low attendance, she said. &8220;For this time of year, I should be getting, overwhelmingly, a lot of phone calls for kids begging to get in a class.&8221;

B.J. Fisher, director of Health and Safety for the American Lifeguard Association, said the local shortage is part of a nationwide problem.

&8220;What&8217;s happening is our baby boomers are retiring. We&8217;re building more and more facilities,&8221; Fisher said, noting in particular the increase in retirement homes and mini water parks at hotels. &8220;We don&8217;t have the numbers of youth we need.&8221;

As a possible solution, the Red Cross has changed some of its certification requirements. Trainees must now complete, with no time limit, only a 50-yard swim to work in pools less than 4 feet and a 300-yard swim for deepwater facilities.

&8220;With the difference now for shallow water and deep water that&8217;s going to give us the extra 20 to 30 percent we need,&8221; Fisher said.

In the meantime, Dick and others will have to find ways to fill out their teams. This year, the YMCA will reimburse $150 of the $200 training fee.

To be eligible, guards must sign on with one of the Birmingham area YMCA&8217;s by June 1 and work until Aug. 1, when they will be reimbursed.

&8220;We&8217;re taking a loss,&8221; Dick said of the incentive, but &8220;we have to do this. It&8217;s more important for us to staff our pools than to make money.&8221;

This is the first time in Dick&8217;s seven-year tenure the YMCA has reimbursed any of the Red Cross training fee.