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Busy summer pool season magnifies lifeguard shortage at Triangle pools

Both Raleigh and Durham say it's hard to hire qualified lifeguards, and summer vacations could leave them short-handed.

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Richard Adkins
, WRAL Photojournalist
RALEIGH, N.C. — The City of Raleigh operates eight public pools, four of those year-round. It takes 300 or so lifeguards to protect the swimmers, and right now the city is about 20 lifeguards shy.

July is a month where many families take vacation, some of the families include Raleigh lifeguards. If the city can't cover the shifts while lifeguards are away, they may have to temporarily close some parts of the pools.

“Nobody is going unguarded,” says Raleigh Aquatic Director Terri Stroupe. “But we are spreading ourselves pretty thin.”

It takes five lifeguards at a time to staff the Ridge Road pool.

Two lifeguards sit in the chairs, one patrols the area on foot. One lifeguard watches the baby pool while another is on break. The five lifeguards rotate through the assignments.

“We are covering all out bodies of water and all our operations,” Stroupe says, “but we don't have a lot of back-up” If a lifeguard is sick, it can cause a domino effect in scheduling.

Lifeguards make a little more than $9 an hour.

Recruiting new lifeguards is challenging, according to Stroupe, “It's not the glamour job it used to be, it's still a lot of fun, but I think it's a physical fitness kind of position which makes it a little more difficult in our screen happy world these day.”

The City of Durham also has trouble recruiting new lifeguards.

Recreation and Aquatic manager Colleen Toomey points to the busy life of teens and college students.

“It's an intense job, a lot of responsibility,” she said. “High school students are being pushed to prepare for college and college students are being pushed to internships and jobs.”

The City of Durham currently has two lifeguard openings out of a staff of 40.

Both Durham and Raleigh will train qualified applicants to be certified lifeguards. The job can be year-round, with the covered pools operating in the winter.

At the Ridge Road pool in Raleigh, Sam Lombardo brought his grand kids for a few hours of fun. Siena, 12 and Corin, 10, say this is how they like to beat the heat. Granddad Sam says he feels perfectly safe letting them swim in the pool.

“The first thing I noticed is the young lifeguards, and they are very young to me,” Lombrdo says at age 70, “ (The lifeguards) are very attentive and very serious about their job.”

“Their focus is constantly on the water, I've been watching them, and I feel like I can turn my head away from the water and the grandchildren and not worry because the lifeguards are conscientiously on the job.”

Stroupe says what they lack in lifeguard numbers, they make up for in lifeguard quality. “They are good people that are good with the public, I have to say we have a good staff with the ones we've got.”


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