As the weather warms up, summer days at the beach are not far away.
At the same time, beaches and recreation programs in the Lakes region are having difficulty filling key summer positions – lifeguards.
Sebago Lake State Park in Casco and 10 other state parks across Maine are facing a shortage of lifeguards this season, according to Matt McGuire, park ranger. The Sebago park has three vacant positions out of six lifeguards needed to staff the beach.
Due to a lack of applicants, McGuire said, the park will now consider individuals who are 17 years old and graduating from high school this spring. Typically, the park only accepts applicants 18 and older.
It’s not entirely a new problem. Last year it was down to the wire to fill all the positions, McGuire said.
“It’s becoming tougher to fill all the positions before the lifeguard academy course in the beginning of June,” he said. The park, open to the public year-round, starts staffing lifeguards June 5.
The academy, a weekend-long pre-hire program, is hosted by the park.
“We have high expectations because (the lifeguards) are protecting the public,” McGuire said.
It’s also a challenging job in many ways, McGuire said. It can be stressful, especially when the beach is crowded, and the applicants need to be physically fit to perform their job. At the lifeguard academy, applicants must complete physical challenges to qualify for employment at the state park, including running 1.5 miles in 12 minutes.The fitness test comes after receiving lifeguard certification.
Seasonal positions, such as lifeguards, are “typically filled by college students,” he said, noting that the push for college students to take internships may be one reason the applicant pool is shrinking. Two of his lifeguards from last summer are not returning because of internships.
Saint Joseph’s College in Standish offers Red Cross lifeguard-certification programs, as well as a review course for those who are already certified. The cost of the program for the public is $335.
So far this year, three certification courses were held and 18 certifications were awarded, according to Renee Daigle, assistant director at the college’s Alfond Center. A lifeguard review course is scheduled for mid-June, but no certification courses are scheduled.
McGuire said the fee for certification may be prohibitive for some, but added that the pay is generally higher than other seasonal positions. Starting pay for lifeguards is $10.64.
Ultimately, McGuire said, the position usually is attractive to people because “you get to be outside and help the public.”
As well, McGuire said, the certification teaches skills, such as CPR and first aid, that are beneficial for future employment.
While the park is still looking for lifeguards, McGuire said, the staff “will continue to make sure it’s a safe and enjoyable place for the summer season.”
Recreation programs in Windham and Raymond are also facing similar staffing difficulties.
Linda Brooks, director of Windham’s Parks and Recreation Department, said Dundee Park off River Road needs two full-time and one part-time lifeguard on staff to get up to last year’s staffing levels. The park opens this weekend, and will be open on weekends until June 11, when full-time hours will commence.
Last year, Brooks said, Dundee Park had seven lifeguards.
The department has a plan, however. Brooks said park supervisors will take on some of the lifeguards’ additional duties, allowing them to focus on the water.
“We’re not in crisis mode,” Brooks said, “but we’re not as comfortable as we were last year.”
Dundee Park accepts applicants 16 and up. The starting pay is $10 per hour.
The park will continue recruiting, Brooks said, and “hope kids returning from college will be interested in the positions.”
Beth Clark, president of the Raymond Recreation Association, said the recreation program is also looking for lifeguards for their “every child a swimmer” program, held annually at Crescent Beach.
The program, which teaches children ages 6 and up to swim, has run for more than 30 years, she said, and has faced difficulty finding lifeguards for a number of years.
Clark said that while a shortage of lifeguards may be contributing to the issue, the position is also difficult to staff because it’s “a four-week program, half-day and not a huge paying position,” she said.
The position pays $8 to $10 per hour, commensurate with experience. The lifeguard has to be Red Cross certified.
The program offers half-hour lessons daily during the week, for a cost of $35 per child. Because of the amount of recreational swimming and boating in the area, “it’s a really important program to keep affordable,” Clark said.
Every Child a Swimmer is scheduled to start June 18, she said, and “if we don’t have a lifeguard we won’t hold swim lessons, which would be a huge disservice.”
In the meantime, Clark said, the recreation association “is scrounging to find people.”
Matt McGuire, park manager at Sebago Lake State Park in Casco, said the park is having difficulty filling vacant lifeguard positions. Parks across the state and programs in the Lakes region are facing the same challenge.
A Closer Look
For more information regarding lifeguard positions:
Sebago Lake State Park, Matt McGuire, firstname.lastname@example.org
Windham Parks and Recreation, Linda Brooks, email@example.com
Raymond Recreation Association, Beth Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org