Nationwide Lifeguard Shortage Hits Chicago Area Causing Some Swimming Sites to Delay Opening

Until lifeguards take the stand, no swimming is permitted at Chicago beaches, which are scheduled to open next weekend

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Though temperatures are warming up in the Chicago area, a shortage of lifeguards could keep swimming sites closed to start the season.

The nationwide shortage is likely due to the pandemic, fewer exchange students and people dissuaded by the safety challenge, according to American Lifeguard Association National Spokesperson Wyatt Werneth.

"One of the things that we’re doing during this pandemic and the shortage is we’re reaching back and we’re getting people who have retired from perhaps some type of a water or public safety job and they’re coming out," Werneth said. "But lifeguarding isn’t an easy job to attain."

Experiencing the same hardships, Fox Valley Park District's Philips Park Recreation Center in Aurora won't be able to open its doors to swimmers until more lifeguards are hired.

"It’s really hard because we want to be open," said Sandie Gilmer with Fox Valley Park District. "We want to have the outdoor pools available to our community and if we don’t have the staff and it’s not safe to operate, we just can’t do so."

The park district said it needs 160 lifeguards over its three aquatic centers. So far, however, they've only hired 74 guards.

"Our struggle is that we are putting out these jobs and we are getting applicants and we are getting interest, but the people who are applying are not responding back to us or they’re not passing their lifeguard test because there are certain qualifications that they need to be able to pass for them to go on to the certification," Gilmer said.

At this time, the park district said it will hire any person who can physically do the job.

"We lost a lot of staff because we were shuttered for a year, so we do hope that we are going to start building our retention rates and next year we will have enough staff to open," Gilmer added.

The Chicago Park District is also pleading for more guards, launching a new campaign to highlight lifeguards and boost recruitment. This summer, the district is offering a $500 retention bonus.

"Any time that you offer a little bit more money it does bring people out, but again, you still, you have to be a special person to be a lifeguard," Werneth said.

Chicago beaches are scheduled to open Memorial Day Weekend on May 27 for the summer season, but due to the shortage, no lifeguards will be on duty.

Until lifeguards take the stand, no swimming is permitted at beaches.

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