'We definitely have a shortage': Lack of lifeguards affects Erie-area beaches, pools, parks

·5 min read

As the struggle to fill jobs continues, your swimming plans around Erie could be affected by a lifeguard shortage.

Just days after the start of summer, Presque Isle State Park and Waldameer Park & Water World officials said the lack of lifeguards was affecting what beaches and attractions they were able to open. The YMCA of Greater Erie also was struggling heading into the long Fourth of July weekend.

"We haven't been able to open Beach 1 or Beach 9 (for swimming) at this point," Matt Greene, operations manager at Presque Isle State Park, said on June 23.

The next day, Waldameer President Steve Gorman said, "We did not open the Endless River yet because that takes multiple lifeguards."

Tammy Roche, YMCA of Greater Erie vice president, said Monday, "We definitely have a shortage (of lifeguards). We have had to reduce pool hours."

Presque Isle State Park lifeguard Alyssa Kujawinski, 18, at left, and Ben Voli, 17, at right, leap down an embankment near Beach 7 on their way to work out prior to guard duty in Millcreek Township on June 24, 2022. A second-year guard, Voli joined other guards for an hour of skills and physical training to start their shifts.
Presque Isle State Park lifeguard Alyssa Kujawinski, 18, at left, and Ben Voli, 17, at right, leap down an embankment near Beach 7 on their way to work out prior to guard duty in Millcreek Township on June 24, 2022. A second-year guard, Voli joined other guards for an hour of skills and physical training to start their shifts.

Greene and Gorman attributed the shortage to the general hiring market and limited lifeguard certification during the pandemic. Roche said she thinks the problem has been going on even longer due to the requirements and responsibilities of being a lifeguard. But all three said more lifeguards could be on the job soon. Presque Isle had a rookie class due to finish training and take to the beaches on Friday, Greene said. Gorman said Waldameer had offered two classes of lifeguard training and was expecting to do a third. Roche said a lifeguard course with six people in the class was due to wrap up Saturday.

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Tight labor market

"I think we're feeling what everybody else is feeling on the hiring market," Greene said, adding that it wasn't limited to lifeguards. He said the state park was down six employees on maintenance. He said the number of lifeguards was down about 10, the equivalent of at least two beaches, from a full complement of 55.

Presque Isle State Park lifeguard Owen Hardner, 18, center, helps open Beach 6 for swimming in Millcreek Township on June 24, 2022. Hardner is in his third season as a guard at the park.
Presque Isle State Park lifeguard Owen Hardner, 18, center, helps open Beach 6 for swimming in Millcreek Township on June 24, 2022. Hardner is in his third season as a guard at the park.

Water World opened May 28 with about 20 lifeguards and was up to 35 about four weeks later. Gorman said the park aims for 60 lifeguards but probably won't make that this year even though it offered — for the first-time — full training from its own certified instructors.

"We will not open things if we're not confident with the staffing," he said. "People should understand it's for their own safety when we can't have something open."

Water World officials started by having the most popular attractions open, he said, and were hoping to have them all running near the end of the first week in July.

The local YMCA needs guards for its indoor pools at its Downtown, Glenwood Park and Eastside Family locations. Additionally, the Eastside Y has an outdoor pool as does the YMCA's Camp Sherwin. The YMCA also provides lifeguards at the city's Rodger Young Pool.

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"This career, this job, has been a struggle for many years, well before the pandemic," Roche said.

She said there has been a shortage in the community for a while as demand for guards has grown as more water attractions have opened.

Plus, she said, the job requires maintenance of a physical standard plus specific training and certification, which can take more than 30 hours and require a fee. Not to mention that lifeguards can be called upon to save lives.

"It's a lot of responsibility," said Roche, who was once a lifeguard. "That might be intimidating."

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But the problem isn't unique to Erie. YMCAs across the country are talking with one another about how to attract lifeguards, she said.

"It is a national issue," Roche said.

Presque Isle State Park lifeguards Ben Voli, 17, right, and Eric Peirce, 31, help fellow guard Alyssa Kujawinski, 18, portraying a "passive drowning victim" near Beach 7 in Millcreek Township on June 24, 2022. The lifeguards complete an hour of skills and/or physical training to start their shifts each day. Each took turns filling the different roles.
Presque Isle State Park lifeguards Ben Voli, 17, right, and Eric Peirce, 31, help fellow guard Alyssa Kujawinski, 18, portraying a "passive drowning victim" near Beach 7 in Millcreek Township on June 24, 2022. The lifeguards complete an hour of skills and/or physical training to start their shifts each day. Each took turns filling the different roles.

To help locally, she said, the YMCA of Greater Erie offered to reimburse the course fee for its most recent class members upon completion and agreement to an employment commitment. She said the course can cost $150 or more. She said the Erie YMCA also paid lifeguards to participate in the class this year.

At the YMCA, pay for lifeguards starts at $12 an hour, Roche said. At Waldameer, the base wage ranges from $10.25 an hour for a 15-year-old certified lifeguard to $15 an hour for a wave pool lifeguard who is age 17 and graduated or older, according to the park's website. New lifeguards at Presque Isle start at $16.49 per hour but are expected to work at least 40 hours a week, Greene said.

Not all pools were feeling the pinch, however.

Harry Glunt, manager of the pool owned and operated by American Legion Post 439 in Edinboro, said there was a little staffing trouble at the beginning of the swimming season. Then a special class was run for young lifeguards.

"We're good now," he said.

Glunt said he has a list of 10 lifeguards and uses about eight, most of them part-time. Their pay starts at $13 an hour for a new guard and $14 for an experienced one, he said.

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Heading to the water?

  • For information about the Edinboro American Legion Pool, call 814-734-3014 or visit edinboroamericanlegion.org/pool.php. Membership rates or one-day fees apply.

  • For information about the YMCA pools and Rodger Young Pool, call 814-452-3261. Membership rates apply at the YMCA pools. Day passes are available for Camp Sherwin. Swimming is free for Rodger Young for ages 6-17.

  • Downtown YMCA: 814-452-3261

  • Glenwood Park YMCA: 814-868-0867

  • Eastside Family YMCA: 814-899-9622

  • Camp Sherwin: 814-774-9416 or ymcaerie.org

  • For information about Waldameer Park & Water World, call 814-383-3591 or visit waldameer.com. Admission rates apply.

  • For information about beaches open for swimming at Presque Isle State Park, check signs near the park entrance or call 814-833-7424. Swimming is free at Presque Isle State Park.

  • Officials at several other Erie County swimming sites couldn't be reached for comment.

Contact Dana Massing at dmassing@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @ETNmassing.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie lifeguard shortages affects beaches, pools, Presque Isle, Waldameer