Lifeguard shortage forcing public pool closures in Greater Victoria
Partnership program between local high school and rec centre aims to fill gaps
The Crystal Pool in Victoria, B.C., was expected to be closed on Thanksgiving Monday. It was the Sunday closure that came as a surprise to wanna-be weekend swimmers.
There were not enough lifeguards available to make sure those swimmers would have been safe.
The capital regional district is currently experiencing a shortage of certified lifeguards and, as a result, some public pools in the region have had to reduce their hours and, on some occasions, shut their doors entirely.
Jeff Brehaut, manager of recreation services for the City of Victoria says that, like staffing shortages impacting many industries right now, the novel coronavirus had a hand in creating this particular problem.
"Due to the pandemic, there was a lack of training and certification opportunities for new recruits," he said, speaking Tuesday on CBC's On The Island.
Brehaut said Monday was the first time Crystal Pool had to close because of the issue, but that many other facilities in the area have been similarly impacted.
Brehaut said the work is auxiliary in nature, meaning most lifeguards work at multiple pools in the area, and there just is simply not enough of them to go around.
"You're kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul when you're looking to staff at times," he said.
High school students could help
In an effort to boost lifeguard numbers in Greater Victoria, staff at Esquimalt High School and the Esquimalt Recreation Centre have created a unique program for secondary students.
Students can now take an elective course offered at the school that enables them to get their Bronze Cross and Bronze Medallion water rescue certifications — mandatory stepping stones toward becoming a certified lifeguard.
Those enrolled in the course are taken by bus weekly from the school to the recreation centre to learn and practise in the pool.
Esquimalt High principal Tina Pierik says water safety courses can be expensive and time consuming and by taking them through the school, they are much more accessible for busy teenagers on a budget.
According to the Lifesaving Society, which sets the standard for aquatic safety and certifies Canada's lifeguards, you must be at least 16 years old to occupy that coveted lifeguard seat on the pool deck.
"The demand is really, really great from our students, and the students are loving the program," said Pierik, adding the course, which has been held only once before, is already so popular, she is giving priority to older students.
Kim Kuemper who is teaching the course, says it has been a hit so far on her end as well.
"It's a lot more fun than they expect it to be," she said about her high school learners.
Kuemper says students also benefit by taking the course over a longer period of time than if they took a week-long spring break course or one offered over weekends, giving them more time to sit with the material and practise in the pool.
With files from On The Island