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Lifeguard shortage forces some Mountain West pools to cut hours, raise wages

One lifeguard reaches into a pool while two others stand in the water to stabilize a person lying on a spineboard and rescue tubes.
Courtesy Clark County
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Lifeguards simulate a rescue during training at a public swimming pool in Clark County, Nev.

Public swimming pools across the Mountain West are facing lifeguard shortages. To address the problem, some agencies are offering hiring incentives.

In Southern Nevada, Clark County pools need more than 100 lifeguards. As a result, aquatics supervisor Katie Boehme said on an average day, only six out of 16 pools are open with limited hours.

“Nobody’s happy because the water park’s not open enough for the families with small children, the lap pool is not open enough for the lap swimmers, and we don't have enough programming,” Boehme said.

In response, Clark County bumped hourly pay for lifeguards from $9.50 to $13, and the county now pays for new hires to get trained, which typically costs $120. Boehme said that’s helped the aquatics department recruit about 60 people so far.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis recently announced The Pools Special Initiative 2022 to address the lifeguard shortage. According to Polis, a recent poll found that only 57% of the state’s public pools are fully open.

Through the initiative, 16- and 17-year-old lifeguards are allowed to work more overtime. The state also started a $25,000 grant program that aquatic centers can use to retain and recruit staff. Aspiring lifeguards can make $1,000 by completing a week of training before they are hired.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist who joined KUNR as a reporter in November 2021.
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