FORT GREENE, Brooklyn (PIX11) — Monday marked the beginning of the first week that lifeguards with lower qualifications were allowed to watch over some of the city’s pools.
The lifeguards who were certified under the less stringent standards are only allowed to work at the smallest pools in the city. The New York City Parks Department says that that doesn’t compromise safety. While most poolgoers who spoke with PIX11 News agreed, they also questioned whether the arrangement can keep all of the city’s pools open throughout the summer.
Tedecia Wint was at the Kosciusko Pool in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“It’d be sad,” she said, “if some of the pools are closed and people didn’t have access to them.”
In an effort to prevent that from happening, the Parks Department worked with the lifeguards’ union to expand the number of lifeguards available. It can’t open pools without a requisite number of lifeguards on duty, so the city and the union got approval from New York State regulators to allow lifeguards at mini-pools to have a lower certification threshold.
The standard qualification for lifeguards is to swim 440 yards — the length of 4 football fields — in 6 minutes and 40 seconds or less for beach duty, or 7 minutes and 40 seconds for pool duty.
At the city’s mini-pools, which are only three feet deep, and are typically about 36 feet long, the certification threshold is lower: a lifeguard candidate has to swim 300 yards, or three football field lengths, untimed.
Despite the difference in certifications, poolgoers who spoke with PIX11 News said that they don’t feel any less safe, at least not now. They did voice concern about the rest of the summer, however, whether they go to mini-pools, or larger ones.
“That means [that] if somebody’s working, they can’t take off, or switch shifts, or whatever,” said Chris Rampersad, as he sat with this 2-year-old daughter at the Kosciusko Pool. “If there’s not many lifeguards, how often are the pools gonna be open?”
To ensure that there are as many lifeguards available, the city raised their pay to $19.46 an hour, up from $16. That rate’s still lower than the New York State lifeguard pay of $22 per hour.
However, as pointed out by Henry Garrido, executive director of DC 37, the union that represents lifeguards, they worked out an incentive that further raises lifeguards’ pay.
“If you factor in the $1,000 retention bonus, which we did purposely to try and keep people through the season,” Garrido said in an interview, “the pay does go back. [It] goes up to $22.00 an hour.”
For its part, the Parks Department issued a statement. “We are happy that our number of open pools increases daily,” said Assistant Commissioner for Communications Crystal Howard, “despite the recruitment challenges we have faced due to the national lifeguard shortage.”
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include the correct number of yards required for a standard lifeguard qualification.