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Where Did All the Lifeguards Go?

Are we just going to live with limited pool hours and closed beaches forever? 

4:43 PM EDT on June 9, 2023

Rockaways lifeguard Janet Fash, in a red T-shirt and blue baseball cap, her back turned to the camera, at the beach.

Rockaways lifeguard Janet Fash at the beach. (Hell Gate)

New York's beaches kicked off the summer season at the end of last month with plenty of wind, sun, nutcrackers—and an extremely limited number of lifeguards. As the Parks Department revealed earlier this spring, the City currently has roughly a third of the lifeguards needed to fully open the City's beaches and pools. 

What gives? Are we just going to live with limited pool hours and closed beaches forever? 

For this week's episode of the Hell Gate Podcast, we went to the Rockaways to find out. We spoke with beachgoers, the chair of the City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee, and Janet Fash, a longtime Rockaways lifeguard.

Fash pins the blame for the lifeguard shortage on the city's powerful lifeguard union, the union she's been trying to change for years. Union leadership essentially runs the City's lifeguard training program, and a 2021 report by the City's Department of Investigation found that the union was resistant to changes proposed by the Parks Department, and acted as an impediment to effective supervision by the City over safety and disciplinary issues.

Listen to this week's episode, and afterwards, if you want even more lifeguard content, you can read more about the city's lifeguard union over at New York magazine and the CITY.

New episodes of the podcast come out on Fridays. And they're free! You can subscribe to the Hell Gate Podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you normally consume podcasts.

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