Local lifeguard shortage threatens summer fun at public pools, beaches

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LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — The unofficial start to summer is about a week away.

As Memorial Day arrives, several local cities are still working to hire lifeguards and other staff members to help coordinate the opening of public swimming pools. Most of those swimming spots open for the year on Memorial Day weekend.

The water at Jackson County public beaches looks inviting, but some metro pools and lakefront beaches won’t open, as lifeguard positions go unfilled. Jackson County Parks + Rec will not open Blue Springs Beach right away due to a lack of staffing.

Instead, the small staff of lifeguards employed by that agency will be shifted to Longview Beach, where gates will open on Saturday morning.

“We don’t want to put any of our patrons in harm’s way. Swimming in a lake is different than swimming in a swimming pool,” Tina Spallo, director of recreation with Jackson County Parks + Rec, said.

Spallo said when her department is fully staffed, it employs 16 lifeguards and three managers. On Monday, Spallo said the department is short of that number because there haven’t been enough applicants for lifeguard jobs.

“We don’t have enough people applying for our jobs. We’re not talking just lifeguards. People who work in our marinas. Our parks maintenance and operations division,” Spallo said.

Parks and rec managers in Kansas City, Missouri and Olathe, Kansas said they’re also falling short of the number of lifeguards needed. Both of those cities said they’re willing to train new hires and assist them in getting certified by the American Red Cross.

Doug Schroeder, a spokesperson for Kansas City Parks and Rec, said six of his department’s pools and two water parks will open. Smaller community pools are unlikely to open on time. Schroeder said pools will likely need to share their lifeguard staffs. 

“The water parks have a lot more lifeguards than the smaller pools. We’ll take some of the kids who were thinking of working part time and giving them some extra hours at our major pools,” Schroeder said.

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