“We are hiring!,” reads the front page of the Parks and Recreation Department of Richardson website. After raising lifeguard salaries from $13.50 to $15 an hour and making the application easier, the city of Richardson had an influx of summer lifeguard applicants, allowing the (partial) opening of the Heights Family Aquatics Center.
The popular pool had been closed since last season due to the understaffing affecting recreation departments nationwide.
Beginning in April, Richardson has made efforts to fill the seasonal lifeguard positions and modified opening hours for the four neighborhood pools in May due to the lifeguard shortage. On June 15, the city announced that the water park would remain closed for the rest of the summer, due to the lifeguard shortages preventing the facility to operate safely.
After taking additional incentives for applicants including a salary raise, cash rewards for referrals and flexible work schedules, 25 lifeguards applied to work at the HFAC. This means the pool can open on weekends, giving visitors the chance to cool off during the relentless heat.
Despite this flood of applicants, 85 lifeguard positions still remain vacant, along with six pool manager and nine assistant pool manager positions, forcing the city to a weekend-only schedule for the aquatic center. In addition, the limited staffing also means that the facility won’t be available for rentals this season.
Richardson is not alone in its search for qualified lifeguards. According to the release, “The shortage of lifeguards is a regional and national issue with various explanations on the cause.” The BBC recently reported that one-third of the country’s pools are affected by the shortage. "It is a crisis,” Bernard J. Fisher II, director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association, told the BBC. Fisher worries people will be forced to choose watering holes that aren’t protected by lifeguards to flee the blazing heat wave, significantly increasing the risk of drowning.
For now, Richardson residents can plan their weekend at the HFAC or any of the four neighborhood pools.