National lifeguard shortage ripples to Hudson Valley

Wondering why your town pool or beach might not be open yet? It’s likely because of a shortage of trained lifeguards, a pinch felt across the country as well as the Hudson Valley and Capital regions.

Last year, certification classes were put on pause when most pools closed due to COVID-19. Lifeguards whose certifications expired didn’t have the opportunity to renew them, and newcomers faced a much tighter window than usual to secure theirs, creating a dearth of available lifeguards locally and across the country.

Here in the Hudson Valley, Rosendale’s town pool has already announced a reduction in normal hours, even delaying their usual Memorial Day opening due to staffing and maintenance.

“Our pool has yet to be filled with water,” said head lifeguard Ashley Kraus. “We are waiting on some parts to come in and to finish minor repairs that have to happen since the pool was empty for so long.”

But the bigger issue is the lack of lifeguards. Kraus said in a normal year they have up to 25 lifeguards and this year there are only eight. With two pools at the Rosendale Community Center, one for competition and one for activity, she wonders how they will man both, even with limited hours.

“I was hopeful things would fall into place as they usually do with the pool,” said Kraus. “But, as we were getting closer and closer to June, the director of recreation and I could see it just wasn’t happening.”

The town originally posted a job listing for cashiers and lifeguards in early March and quickly received an influx of applications for cashiers. The picture wasn’t the same for lifeguards.

The American Red Cross, which certifies lifeguards, had limited availability to handle all certification classes this year, said Kraus. Nevertheless, the national organization has been flexible, allowing lifeguards whose certifications expire this summer to take an online course to extend their certification.

This year, Rosendale has more new lifeguards on staff, which she says is another struggle to balance because first-timers require additional in-house training.

The shortage in qualified talent has an upside for those who do land a spot in the lifeguard chair. “Pools are starting to be really competitive for what they’re offering salary wise,” said Kraus. “Who would have thought summer 2021 lifeguards would be such a hot commodity?”

Another reason for lifeguards not returning is because they may have gone on to find other summer jobs last year during COVID and are sticking with them instead, Kraus suggests. It’s a similar trend across the hospitality and tourism industry, which was hard hit during the pandemic and struggles to hire enough staff.

“If we opened last year maybe we would have gotten a lot of our returning guards back,” said Kraus.

Locally, Zena Recreation Park Swim and Tennis Club, located in Woodstock, is doing a five-day intensive course beginning this Saturday that would American Red Cross-certify lifeguards after they pass their practical and written elements.

In Saugerties, the lifeguard shortage was discussed at Monday’s village board meeting, where officials reported that only two people have applied although a minimum of three lifeguards is needed. In year’s past, they’ve had four lifeguards.

In the Capital region, Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett said they were still doing lifeguard interviews up until the end of May and asked people to apply whether they were certified or not, with the anticipation that they will be in time for the season. Clifton Park was able to open by June 11 after setting up an in-town lifeguard recertification program.

However, it’s unclear if Schenectady’s Hillhurst and Front Street public pools will open, or the Boys and Girl Club in Troy, all of whom have reported similar lifeguard shortages.

The Rosendale Town Pool is expected to open after the Fourth of July weekend with its reduced hours of Monday through Thursday from 12 noon to 4 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from 12 noon to 7 p.m.

“It’s a unique situation and the Town of Rosendale is really trying to open for our community and do right by our community members,” said Kraus. “My fingers are crossed. We have a few more guards who are hoping to apply and we will gladly take them.”