Area lifeguard shortage continues as Chicago beaches open for summer season

Many area park districts are offering bonuses for those who sign up and qualify
CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's not the best and brightest beach day Friday to kick off Memorial Day weekend.

"I believe, all together, I have about five to seven layers under this," said one lakefront runner.

While all 20 plus Chicago beaches are now open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with lifeguards on duty, a city and Chicago area lifeguard shortage is starting to show.

"We still need lifeguards to be able to open our pool system and we're looking forward to this month being productive with hiring," said Rosa Escareño, Chicago Park District CEO and general superintendent.

Escareño said she's hoping to hire 100 to 150 lifeguards to help open city pools next month and is paying a premium, with a $500 bonus for all returning and new lifeguards.

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"Many of them have actually completed the training,' Escareño said. "It's now just coming back and completing that paperwork and we think the bonus is a great way to entice them."

It's a similar situation in Aurora with the Fox Valley Park District.

"We are currently at 74 certified lifeguards and to open up all of our facilities safely we need 160 lifeguards," said Jessica Ramos, Fox Valley Park District aquatics operations manager.

Ramos said some facilities, like Aurora's Splash Country Aquatic Center, are set to open Saturday, but others, like the Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center, are staying closed because of lack of trained lifeguards and staff.

"We're competing with the Targets [and] the Home Depots that stayed open," she said.

Ramos said some lifeguards found other jobs during the COVID shutdown. Fox Valley Park District raised lifeguarding wages to $15 an hour and is giving out $150 referral bonuses for lifeguards.

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Both districts said, regardless of age, if you can pass the physical requirements, they want you in the perch.

"Our oldest lifeguard right now is 60 years old, so it's not just the young adults that we're looking to hire," Ramos said.

"We have people well into their 50s with plenty of swimming ability and we'd love to have you come join us," said Andy Walsh, Chicago Park District manager of beaches and pools.

Naperville's Centennial Beach opens Saturdayat 11 a.m. as well. Their park district, too, is offering bonuses of $100 if you sign on to be a lifeguard.
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