By Shawn Chitnis

LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) – Community pools across Colorado reduced hours and announced closures at the start of the 2021 season because of a national shortage in trained lifeguards. The Loveland Parks & Recreation Department usually hires the staff needed by mid-May but remains at only 50% of the seasonal employees required this week as the pandemic continues to impact their operations.

(credit: CBS)

“We lost a year in conducting lifeguard training classes and recruitment of lifeguards, our facilities weren’t open, we weren’t allowed to have the classes due to the COVID restrictions because it wasn’t safe,” LeAnn Williams, the recreation manager for the City of Loveland, told CBS4 on Wednesday at Winona Pool. “We shut down for a year and lost a whole year of new lifeguards and so now we’re playing catch up.”

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Williams says a decrease of department employees like lifeguards started before the pandemic but the COVID-19 outbreak only intensified the gap as they open back up ahead this summer. She considers these jobs a form of public safety and essential to providing community services. The announcement of rolling closures comes as record temperatures are set around the state. Families flocking to pools for a cool escape from the heat will have to plan around reduced operations.

“I really enjoy the people I work with as a team, there’s a really good comradery,” said Elise Clark, a current lifeguard for the City of Loveland. She loves helping kids and says she often must come to their rescue. “They get caught off as the pool gets deeper and so they take one step too far and I usually have to pull them out with my tube or assist in some way.”

(credit: CBS)

Lifeguards are often top-performing students and the experience helps teenagers stand out as they move forward with their education and career, Williams added. But last year it wasn’t even an option and the pipeline of potential team members hit a major setback because of the pandemic. While there are certain requirements that must be met, training sessions continue into the summer this year and current employees encourage more people to consider the opportunity.

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“It’s just, it’s a pretty cool feeling to have known you helped someone like that,” Clark told CBS4 on Wednesday.

Not only is the current shortage impacting the service provided to the public, it also adds to the workload for the remaining employees. They are busier taking on more shifts at the pool in addition to working behind the scenes to keep conditions sanitary for staff and visitors. Williams says it is a higher calling for those who have a passion to help others and their community.

(credit: CBS)

“Where else at age 15 are you given the responsibility to keep people safe in a body of water,” she said. “It’s a pretty amazing job.”

Sign up to become a lifeguard in Loveland:

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Loveland facilities openings and closures:

Shawn Chitnis