Philly needs lifeguards so badly they would hire people who can’t swim

If a lifeguard saves you in Philadelphia, they might be wearing water wings.

The city is so in need of lifeguards for its municipal swimming pools that it is willing to accept applicants who cannot swim, according to Philadelphia magazine.

Officials say they will provide swimming lessons for applicants who are aquatic beginners.

While the idea that their life could be in the hands of a novice swimmer may make some swimmers nervous, city park officials have tried to downplay the report and ensure residents’ lifeguards will be fully trained.

“We only have to train a handful of people,” department commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell told the Post. “I wouldn’t say they can’t swim, they just can’t pass our drug test on the first try.”

The city needs 400 lifeguards to operate its more than 60 public pools — and competition with the private sector for workers is tough, Lovell said.

“Every fast food outlet, every retail outlet is hiring,” Ott Lovell said. “They offer signing bonuses and higher hourly rates.”

Officials say they will give swimming lessons to applicants who lack confidence in the water.
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Philadelphia initially closed public pools in 2020 during COVID-19, then brought them back in 2021 without enough lifeguards — and has since struggled to find enough applicants for the $16-18 an hour job.

In addition to providing swimming lessons, the city will also waive some costs associated with becoming a lifeguard, such as a Red Cross lifeguard certification course.

Philadelphia isn’t the only city concerned about the shortage of lifeguards.

The American Lifeguard Association said in June that the shortage affected about a third of public swimming pools nationwide, leading to limited operations or the closure of many facilities.

New York City also faced a shortage of lifeguards last year. Only 26% of the 900 applicants for lifeguard jobs last year passed the city’s lifeguard training program test, which some critics say is too difficult to pass.

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