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Lifeguard shortage across the country

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The heat this summer is making for great pool weather, but many pools across the country are struggling with a shortage of lifeguards, including pools across the Kansas City Metro.

You must be certified to lifeguard at city pools, but many pools are struggling to find enough people who qualify.

"I've always considered life-guarding the quintessential American high school teenage job," said 18-year-old Grace Heitmann, a lifeguard.

This was once a very popular perception of life-guarding, but lately, that hasn't been the case.

"A lot of pools in the metro, not all, but for a lot of the pools it's been a little bit more challenging to find guards in the last couple of years," said Fairway Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Nogelmeier.

He says there a many factors that might be contributing to this decline, but there are two main problems: money and training.

"In order to become a certified lifeguard, a lot of times the guards are working up to 40 hours in training before they ever get the job," said Nogelmeier. "To find the money up front, sometimes the guards aren't going to recoup that cost until maybe their second paycheck."

Lifeguard certification can cost up to $300, and the application process has changed in recent years.

"Several years ago, the Red Cross nationally changed their format to how lifeguard classes are conducted, and before, the local chapter in Kansas City conducted at least in our area, a majority of the American Red Cross lifeguard classes that were taking place," said Nogelmeier.

Kathie Edwards, the Territory Aquatics Specialist for the American Red Cross says they still certify more than 95% of lifeguards across the country.

"They are still Red Cross, we train individuals to become instructors and instructor trainers, and so they can also work within themselves and build within their own programs," Edwards said. "Within the last couple years, we haven't done as much ourselves doing the programming."

"After their change, people who are wanting to be a lifeguard, they really need to go out and seek out the authorized providers," said Nogelmeier. "Instead of really having one central location to see a list of classes, it really puts a lot more work on the part of the applicants."

Nogelmeier says in the past, he hired lifeguards that were already certified, but had to do something different this year.

"Because we were having such a hard time finding guards, we actually commissioned our own lifeguard class and we worked with a neighboring city who was also looking to certify a few more, and that last week of May we had our own lifeguard class here at the pool," Nogelmeier said.

You must be at least 15 years of age to become a certified lifeguard, and oftentimes pools start accepting applications as early as December for the following summer.

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