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Lifeguard Shortage Leaving Some Minnesota Pools, Beaches Unsupervised

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Jumping in feet first isn't just a phrase at the Ridgedale YMCA.

It's part of the training to ensure a group of avid swimmers can soon fill an essential need, according to aquatics director Meagan Matrejek.

"They will walk away with a lifeguarding certification, CPR for the professional rescuer, first aid, and in this class they'll also be learning administering emergency oxygen," Matrejek said.

A lifeguard shortage is hitting the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota, forcing some pools to close and beaches go unsupervised. St. Cloud is closing all seven of its wading pools for the entire summer. The city says COVID-19 restrictions were rolled back too late for it to budget for pool operations and salaries for lifeguards. Splash pads will stay open.

As of late May, YMCA locations between the Twin Cities and Rochester had 400 openings for lifeguards, swim instructors and coaching positions. If there's any good news, Matrejek said training courses are quickly filling up. Normally, her location holds 10 courses between May and June. This year, though, it's half that amount.

"[We're] struggling to find staff to not only run certification classes but simply lifeguard the pools, teach swimming lessons, and it's just a trickle effect that effects every single program we run," she said.

When the pandemic forced pools and beaches to close last summer, certified lifeguards had to find new jobs, and not everyone has come back this summer.

Lifeguard Training
(credit: CBS)

Drew Aldrich drove down from Hibbing to take the class at the Ridgedale location after courses up north were already full.

"One of my really good friends is a lifeguard up where I'm going to work and she told me that they have no one, and I'm like, 'I just want to help her out there,'" Aldrich said.

He's staying with a family member in town as he completes the 21-hour course across four days.

"It's a hard job, it is, but it's also so rewarding," Aldrich said.

While the shortage is one reason why the students were in the water Monday, they say reports of people struggling or drowning in pools and lakes recently is giving them extra motivation to get trained. Maya Rice is already a swim instructor with the YMCA, but she decided to step up and fill the need for lifeguards.

"I've heard about lots of, you know, sad incidents of kids drowning or going too far or just pushing themselves in ways that they really shouldn't have," Rice said.

"Having that knowledge of CPR is also good in the situations outside of the pool."

The YMCA has raised the starting hourly wage for lifeguards to entice applicants. It's also offering to cover training costs. Matrejek said most of the training courses for the month of June are full or nearing capacity. However, registration for courses in July opens this week.

Click here for more information on upcoming courses. Those who hold a current Red Cross Lifeguarding certificate or an expired one -- between March 15, 2020 and June 30, 2021 -- can renew their certification by taking a provisional lifeguarding review class.

Typically, lifeguards must hold current certification to take the review course.

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