Jun 12, 2023 - News

11 Phoenix pools won't open this summer because of lifeguard shortage

Illustration of lifeguard towers stylized as a downward trending bar chart, shrinking in size.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For the third summer in a row, Phoenix has to keep some of its public pools closed due to a lack of lifeguards.

State of play: 18 of the city's 29 pools will open for at least one month this summer.

  • 12 pools will operate for the whole season, while the Cielito, Harmon and Perry pools will open only in June and the Falcon, Pierce and University pools will open only in July.

Context: This is an upgrade from last summer's 14 open pools and the 12 that invited swimmers in 2021. The city didn't open any of its public pools in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Why it matters: Public pools can be a refuge from the Phoenix heat, especially in neighborhoods with fewer residential pools.

Zoom out: About one-third of more than 309,000 public pools are affected by the staffing shortage, per estimates from the American Lifeguard Association.

What's happening: Phoenix pools struggled to compete with the salaries at retail employers for years, city spokesperson Adam Waltz tells us.

  • Then, the pandemic “wiped the slate of certified lifeguards completely clean,” Bernard Fisher II, director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association, told Axios' Kelly Tyko.
  • Waltz says the city had a tough time hiring qualified pool managers because a pool manager needs at least two years of lifeguard experience and the pandemic disrupted the pipeline.

1 big paycheck: Phoenix offered lifeguards $3,000 bonuses this summer in hopes of competing with other lucrative summer jobs.

  • That boosted a basic lifeguard's pay to $25 per hour, which helped the city fill about 400 of its 600 open positions. Waltz said.

What they're saying: "Coming up to 18 pools was a big win for us this year," he said.

Zoom in: This year, Phoenix also hired "shallow water lifeguards" for teens who might not meet the full certification requirements but are capable of assisting in shallow areas. The city hopes these individuals will become traditional lifeguards next year, Waltz says us.

What's next: The city is offering a free junior lifeguard program at 12 pools from June 20 to July 20 to help 14- to 17-year-olds get their certification for next summer.

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