The Crusader Newspaper Group

Park District takes steps to address lifeguard shortage

$600 summer bonus, tickets to Chicago Fire games among perks for lifeguard applicants

With a lifeguard shortage threatening to close outdoor pools and beaches during the summer season, the Chicago Park District is offering perks, higher wages, and a $600 bonus to year-round lifeguards who complete all required training and fulfill their duties during the summer season.

Park District officials hope the bonus and tickets to Chicago Fire FC home games will boost the number of applicants as Chicago faces a lifeguard shortage ahead of the busy summer season.

The Chicago Fire tickets will be given to applicants who pass the lifeguard swim test. Those candidates will also have a chance to win a one-day pass to Chicago’s Lollapalooza concert in Grant Park and a Divvy pass, Park District officials announced.

The Park District said the average current wage for lifeguards will be raised to an equivalent of $17.45 an hour for new and returning hires, and over $18 for current year-round lifeguards. The $600 bonus payments will be given in two equal payments that will be distributed with employee payroll checks during the season.

“We rely on our summer workforce to fully deliver on the essential, quality summer programs and services that residents have come to expect from us. The retention bonus is one approach to attract and retain the most qualified and enthusiastic lifeguards needed to open all beaches and pools this summer,” said Chicago Park District CEO and Superintendent Rosa Escareño. “In addition, we’re looking ahead to next year and focused on offering competing wages and building our future pipeline of summer workers and lifeguards disrupted over the past two years.”

Park District officials said seasonal summer lifeguards must be at least 16 years old and pass a specific skills test that requires applicants to swim 200 yards in less than 3 min. and 30 sec. (4 min., 30 sec. for Shallow Water Attendants), according to its website. Applicants must also swim underwater for 20 yards and must retrieve a 10-pound object from a depth of 10 to 14 feet. Applicants must also retrieve a submerged mannequin in deep water and carry it for at least 25 yards.

Once applicants pass the skills test, they must go through a three-day Lifeguard Training Academy, where they perform rescue and life-saving skills, and complete tasks under supervision.

Park District officials say applicants will be compensated for the Lifeguard Training Academy. This year, the District is covering the $85 cost for the required American Red Cross Waterfront Lifeguard Certification training.

At the end of the summer, seasonal lifeguards who complete job duties with a favorable supervisory review will be eligible for year-round employment as a Chicago Park District lifeguard. In 2022, more than 80 summer seasonal lifeguards earned full-time positions with the District year round.

Approximately $20 million has been budgeted to invest in seasonal positions, including lifeguards and recreation leaders, according to Park District officials. They said of the total amount budgeted, roughly $12 million in wages and other compensation are earned by teens and young adults, who make up a large portion of the seasonal workforce.

Park District officials said they began soliciting candidates for lifeguards as part of the summer jobs campaign, “Your Perfect Summer Job,” and have received a favorable number of applicants to operate one of the largest aquatics programs in the country, and to ensure visitors can enjoy beaches and pools safely this summer.

For this and future stories, the Crusader is waiting for answers to a list of questions emailed to Irene Tostado, deputy director of communications for the Park District.

Last summer, a Crusader analysis showed there were approximately 57 public indoor and outdoor pools in Chicago after lifeguards were redirected to patrol the city’s 27 beaches. In Black wards, 28 pools were closed, including five that had been closed year-round for maintenance and unknown reasons. Three of the most popular outdoor pools in Black wards, Tuley Park, Palmer (Potter) Park and Washington Park were all closed last summer. With the lingering lifeguard shortage, there are concerns these pools will remain shuttered this summer as well.

When Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) learned of the abrupt closures, including the outdoor pool at Palmer Park in his ward, he told the Sun-Times, “We’re putting all of these [warnings] out. … And on the hottest days of the year, when our kids need something to do, and our families need to cool off, they don’t have access. Once again, we’re favoring other areas. Some of my residents can’t get to the beach. What are they supposed to do? They’re popping fire hydrants all over the place.”

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