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One Week Before NYC Pools Open and We’re Still Short About 900 Lifeguards

Lifeguards eager to return to the water haven't been able to get certified.

Kids at the re-opening of Bushwick Pool in Brooklyn on Saturday, June 26, 2021. (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

On Thursday, June 29, the City's outdoor pools will open for the season. Like last year, they'll operate with significantly curtailed hours, and often with only parts of the pools open, because the City doesn't have anywhere near the number of lifeguards needed to staff pools at full capacity.

The Parks Department told Hell Gate that it currently has only 460 certified lifeguards, less than a third of the goal of 1,400 lifeguards that the City had set for this summer. Earlier this spring, Parks representatives told the City Council that it was in the process of certifying only 480 lifeguards, and that it was in danger of not being able to meet the needs of people looking to cool off in the ocean or the City's pools this summer.

The Parks Department ended its training courses for new lifeguards weeks ago, but is still trying to get former lifeguards to recertify and hit the beach. Earlier this month, Hell Gate told the story of Janet Fash, a long-time lifeguard in the Rockaways who, despite being eager to lifeguard this summer, had not yet been given an opportunity to recertify. 

On Friday, Fash told us that her CPR recertification appointment, originally scheduled for this past Tuesday (after Fash had requested it all the way back in April), was rescheduled without explanation for July 5, more than a month after beaches opened to the public. 

Now, Fash won't hit the beach, at the earliest, until the middle of July. 

Fash has spoken to other lifeguards going through the same drawn-out process. 

"They kept other lifeguards waiting a month," she texted us. 

Hell Gate reached out to the Parks Department to find out why the City hasn't made any progress on hiring lifeguards.

"Our First Deputy Commissioner’s office has been actively reaching out to former lifeguards to encourage them to take a recertification exam, and we ask anyone who is having trouble scheduling an exam to please reach out to us," a Parks Department spokesperson said in a statement.

Fash, and other critics of the City's lifeguard program, have pointed the finger squarely at the leadership of the City's lifeguard school, which has close ties to Local 461, the union that represents lifeguards who work at the City's pools and beaches. She believes union leadership at the school has been slow-walking certifications in response to increased oversight from the Parks Department. The CITY has reported that during these CPR certification classes, union instructors have gone on tirades against City government. 

"Lifeguards that have not been given [recertification] appointments have walked away," Fash told Hell Gate. 

DC 37, the parent union of Local 461, did not return a request for comment. 

Because of the lack of lifeguards, stretches of beaches have already been forced to close this summer, leading to crowding on other parts of the beach. Popular summer programs, like adult lap swim, will not be offered this year, because of the lifeguard shortage. And free swim instruction programs will only be offered on a lottery basis (the Parks Department told us the lottery system has always been the case, but this year will only be offered at six sites).

While City Hall has pinned much of the blame on a nationwide "lifeguard shortage," nearby localities, like Westchester and the town of Hempstead, expect to open pools and beaches at full lifeguard capacity

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