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That Lifeguard Shortage You Might Have Heard About? In LA Year-Round Beach Life Has Kept The Ranks Healthy

A lifeguard tower in shown in the foreground in front of the Hansen Dam public swimming pool.
The Hansen Dam Aquatic Center features a large public swimming pool.
(JuanCarlos Chan
Courtesy Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks)
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With low unemployment and fewer in-person training sessions during the pandemic, there are national reports of lifeguards shortages across the country.

The good news close to home? That hasn’t been the case for L.A. County.

Pono Barnes, an ocean lifeguard specialist and spokesperson for the L.A. County Fire Department says unlike other places, L.A. County sees lifeguarding as “an essential public service” throughout the year and says the department is constantly recruiting.

“Los Angeles County — the first thing that people think is the beach and Baywatch and Santa Monica Pier, and so regardless of the season, it’s always a good beach day down here in L.A.,” Barnes said.

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In other Southern California cities, lifeguard chiefs told LAist it’s been slower to recruit new guards this year, but they’ll have beaches fully staffed this summer.

Brian O’Rourke, chief lifeguard in Newport Beach, said only about 40 people showed up to the department’s swim test this year. In years past, that number was up to 100.

“Coming out of the pandemic, or moving through it, we haven’t been able to get our lifeguard recruiters out to schools. We’ve been doing it through social media, and I think that has definitely…has hurt the effort,” O’Rourke said.

But he said the department, which guards about six miles of the coast in Orange County, is still running at full staff.

What's going on elsewhere? Here's what NPR reported earlier this week:

The shortage is affecting about a third of public pools across the country, leading some public pools to reduce hours or close altogether, the American Lifeguard Association says. And it says the shortage could extend into next year.

... The pandemic has taken a toll on the number of lifeguards. It's meant two years of very little lifeguard training and expiring certifications on top of that, Bernard J. Fisher II, director of health and safety for the lifeguard association, told NPR.

The shortage nationwide has the lifeguard association offering incentives throughout this year:

What questions do you have about Southern California?