Shutdown draining pool of trained lifeguards, safety advocate warns

·2 min read

COVID-19 restrictions are interrupting training and certification programs for lifeguards in Ottawa, raising the possibility that public pools, beaches and water parks will be understaffed this summer, one safety advocate warns.

Indoor pools are closed during Ontario's current lockdown, postponing the training and testing would-be lifeguards need to be certified.

According to Perry Smith, programs director for the Lifesaving Society in Ontario, that could lead to a shortage of trained personnel when those aquatic facilities reopen.

"At some point those will be reopened and they take in some cases hundreds of lifeguards to supervise," said Perry.

"We recommend that when the stay-at-home mandate is lifted, that people continue with their training as soon as they can, so they don't get into a situation where … they're not able to get the training they want going into the summer," said Perry.

CBC
CBC

Between mid-March and Boxing Day, when Ontario's 28-day lockdown went into effect, first aid training and lifeguard certification was allowed to continue, albeit with safety protocols including smaller classes, frequent cleaning of equipment and the some online elements.

That restricted capacity, creating a backlog that's now getting worse.

According to Perry, the City of Ottawa has had lifeguard staffing problems in the past, with too many lifeguards gunning for choice outdoor jobs at water parks, public beaches and summer camps, and too few settling for indoor posts and teaching swimming lessons, according to Perry.

You don't want your beachfronts or your swimming pools with not enough staff available to provide the services. - Perry Smith, Lifesaving Society

In order to attract more young people to the field, the Lifesaving Society recently reduced the age requirement to start training, Perry said.

"So they can get their training when they're 15, and then when they turn 16, then they can be employed as a full lifeguard."

He's encouraging would-be lifeguards to get as much of their training done online as possible, "so when the pools are open, then they can continue their training and complete it."

Perry is also urging municipalities including Ottawa to do whatever it takes to have pools and programs ready to go.

"You don't want your beachfronts or your swimming pools with not enough staff available to provide the services," he said.

Aaron Favila/Associated Press
Aaron Favila/Associated Press

But the City of Ottawa doesn't appear concerned that the stalled lifeguard training and certification process will lead to shortages months from now.

"The city does not foresee any issues with staff lifeguards for the upcoming summer, and will proceed with the hiring process as per usual," said Dan Brisebois, director of citywide programs, aquatics and specialized services.

In a statement, Brisebois said the city will continue to monitor the effect of COVID-19 on municipal pools and other city-run amenities.