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A staffing shortage is causing some Rockaway Beach lifeguards to fly solo, creating a potentially dangerous situation, guards told The Post.
Lifeguards at the city beach said the long hours on the stand alone compromise safety as they become fatigued or have to deal with multiple rescues. Some staged a protest on Friday.
“If you were out in the water drowning, four of us (have) a lot better chance of seeing you than if I’m by myself on that chair. Especially on a day like today: foggy, muggy,” one lifeguard in his 10th year said Saturday.
Others they were not even allowed to take bathroom breaks, a distraction that made it harder to focus on swimmers. They said supervisors were not sympathetic.
“All they do when we try to explain to them that we need help and we need the manpower is just, like, ‘Well, you get paid for eight hours.’ ” one guard said.
The Parks Department is missing one-third of its lifeguards which also forced the cancellation of swimming lessons, water exercise classes and swim teams as pools opened for the season Saturday.
The department said it “expected” to have 950 lifeguards ready to go as 49 outdoor pools welcomed swimmers. Beaches already opened May 29.
But that figure is 450 less than the city’s full complement of 1,400 guards.
Jian-Carlo Valerio, 19, a Bushwick Pool lifeguard, said there were only five guards this summer when they normally have nine.
“I know it doesn’t sound like that much of a difference, but you can kind of feel it because we usually get a break,” he said.
Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, who was at the opening of Bushwick Pool Saturday, told The Post he was grateful to have 950 guards which would allow the city to keep parks and beaches open. He said he was unaware of the Rockaway Beach lifeguards’ concerns.
“So I’m not sure what the lifeguards are telling you, but we get reports everyday to make sure we have full coverage,” Silver said.
The department said it was dealing with what has become a national shortage of lifeguards, a job once seen as a coveted summer stint for high school and college students that has now gone begging.
The COVID-19 pandemic is partly to blame, shuttering pools and some training programs last year. It also had another effect — on waistlines.
“A lot of people are not in the same physical shape as they used to be. We all know we got that COVID weight,” said Motti Eliyahu, who runs Lifeguard Training NY with programs in New York City and on Long Island.
Some would-be guards cannot pass the prerequisite test to start training — swimming 300 yards without stopping, Eliyahu said. Others may have had COVID-19 and their breathing is not the same, he said.
Pandemic-related difficulties in getting visas for foreign summer workers is also adding to the scarcity of lifeguards.
The shortage is prompting private beach and pool clubs and camps to up their pay, with some offering $20 an hour or more. The city pays $16 an hour and guards work 48 hours a week.
Eliyahu said he recently heard from a Brooklyn homeowner’s association desperate for lifeguards and willing to pay $20 an hour.
“Why would someone want to work for $16 at public pool if they could work at a pool almost nobody goes into for $20 an hour?” he asked.
The Parks Department said it was not too late to apply for the city job and it was still training new guards and recertifying returning workers. The training takes about 40 hours.
The department said the number of guards on hand “will allow us to safely operate our beaches and pools.”
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