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Lifeguard shortage means some, not all, Syracuse pools to open this summer

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

A shortage of lifeguards is affecting public pools across the nation, and is forcing the city of Syracuse to scramble as the summer pool season opens up.

Syracuse Parks Commissioner Julie LaFave said the city will only be able to open five of its eight pools this summer, and all swimming lessons, water exercise and indoor pools will remain closed for the summer. LaFave said it’s an issue that’s been dogging the city for years, and recently has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

"It’s a demanding job. It’s not for everybody. I think it’s a number of factors,” said LaFave. “It could be transportation. We’re seeing it with a lot of our vacancies, not just pools. Just not enough people are applying as they used to. And I don’t know if there’s just one reason for it.”

LaFave said the city is taking some measures to try to get kids more interested in the job, by starting swimming lessons at early ages.

"Starting first by offering swim lessons where we will even transport kids to the pool. We hope a few things happen,” she said. “One, they get comfortable with water. And two, develop relationships with the staff, so they can see, ‘maybe this is something I can do when I’m older.’ We’re going to work with the school districts, and we’re not going to stop trying. We’re looking for new opportunities to get people interested.”

LaFave said if the city can hire more lifeguards, they’ll be able to open more pools. But as of last week, the city was about 60 lifeguards short.

The Thornden Park pool will be the first to open, on June 18. The Onondaga Park and Schiller Park pools will open June 19. The Kirk Park pool will open June 25, and the Burnet Park pool is expected to open in early July.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.