Manitoba

Selkirk takes lifeguard certification into own hands to keep aquatic programs afloat

A lack of training opportunities for lifeguards caused by the pandemic has led the City of Selkirk to take responsibility for training them into its own hands.

COVID-19 pandemic disruptions led to lack of training opportunities

A man wearing a red shirt reading "Lifeguard" on the back stands facing a pool where several people swim.
A lifeguard watches over an outdoor swimming pool in a July 2022 file photo. In Selkirk, Man., the city has started offering its own lifeguard certification course for staff. (Rob Kruk/Radio-Canada)

A lack of training opportunities for lifeguards caused by the pandemic has led the City of Selkirk to take matters into its own hands.

While other communities struggle to find enough qualified staff to run their aquatic facilities, the Manitoba city paid for its program co-ordinator to take the Lifesaving Society of Canada's national lifeguard trainer and examiner course.

That means Courtney Bangert-Murray can offer the certification training herself.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, she says she saw challenges in places that didn't have "really passionate educators and people in those leadership roles."

"Oftentimes, lots of rural facilities, especially seasonal facilities, really struggle with bringing their staff back, or struggle with recruiting trained staff to start a new position," said Bangert-Murray.

During the pandemic, many seasonal staff were unable to get into the water to train. That led to missed recertification timelines or inability to complete the crucial final stages of the certification process.

Once Bangert-Murray finished her training as an instructor, the city then paid for nine of its staff to take the lifeguard course with her in the spring. 

Selkirk currently employs 25 lifeguards — enough to operate the Selkirk Park pool and splash pad without having to scale back programming.

A public pool is an important asset, particularly for a rural community, Bangert-Murray said.

"Those are staples in our communities.… That's where they spend their summer," she said.

Pools are where people "meet as a community. That's where they meet with family and friends. So it's really critical to have those facilities open."

Easton Woloski, 16, is one of the lifeguards who took his training with Bangert-Murray and now works as a lifeguard at the Selkirk Park Pool.

"At a young age I took swimming lessons and enjoyed being around the water," he said. "I felt lifeguarding would be something I'd enjoy, because it involves being around the water and helping people."

The training involved endurance skills, like swimming to the bottom of the pool and picking up a brick, as well as standard first aid and CPR. 

"It was great to just be around people I'm familiar with and I could work with eventually, which ended up happening," Woloski said.

"I love swimming and with other people, it makes it even more fun, because I'm part of a community and a group."

Training incentives

By providing the training internally, the city can save money because it doesn't have to pay for a trainer to drive out from Winnipeg or another community, Bangert-Murray said.

Bangert-Murray has already had conversations with aquatic programmers in other communities about offering training next spring.

Just south of Selkirk, the City of Winnipeg has faced its own shortages, which have forced it to scale back programming. 

Winnipeg currently has 255 lifeguards but needs 300 to be fully staffed, a city spokesperson said.

When asked if Winnipeg would consider adopting a process like Selkirk's for training its lifeguards, the spokesperson said the city co-ordinates public lifeguard certification courses, which are available to anyone through Leisure Guide programming.

Eventually, the City of Selkirk plans to train more of its staff to provide the lifeguard certification, Bangert-Murray said.

"That's definitely something that we're interested in, and we're invested in trying to make that happen in the future," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to cameron.maclean@cbc.ca.

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