Kansas pools struggle to fill shifts; teens not taking lifeguard jobs

Brian Hill, left, shows lifeguard trainees how to place a victim onto a backboard. Hill manages the aquatics program for the city of Wichita.

WICHITA — During a normal year, Brian Hill doesn’t have much trouble hiring enough lifeguards to staff Wichita’s six public swimming pools.

Not in this pandemic year.

“Usually I’m about 80% staffed by February,” said Hill, Wichita’s aquatics director. “This year, I was about 10% staffed.”

Lifeguarding took a hit last summer, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed most gyms, water parks and community pools. High school and college students who would normally work as guards took the summer off or found other jobs. Training classes were cancelled. So were junior lifeguard programs for 11- to 14-year-olds.

More:Topekans are going out to eat. Staffing issues have restaurants struggling to meet demand.

“That’s our pipeline,” Hill said. “In a lot of ways, we were kind of starting this summer from scratch.”

Wichita is not alone.

Roeland Park in Johnson County recently spent $1.6 million to renovate its community aquatic center, adding new slides, a climbing wall, shade structures and splash pads. The grand opening was Memorial Day weekend.

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