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Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, pools grapple with lifeguarding challenges

St. Louis-area pools are getting ready to open for Memorial Day. But it doesn’t come without challenges.

ST. LOUIS — There’s a full staff of lifeguards at the Shaw Park Aquatic Center in Clayton, Missouri.

It's a welcome sight, and increasingly, a rare one, as lifeguard shortages plague the country. St. Louis has been no exception.

“Unfortunately, yes. They're persisting," said Gabby Macaluso, a spokesperson with the City of Clayton.

She said problems hiring lifeguards have gone on for about a decade.

“Yes, the industry is having issues recruiting... But right now we're in a good place," Macaluso said.

She said it’s because the City of Clayton is working with a company called Midwest Pool Management. It's a contracting company with a staff of about 1,200 lifeguards in the St. Louis area.

“They have the staffing in place to open and start the season off," Macaluso said.

Amid staff shortages, more and more places are doing the same. 

St. Louis County is working with Midwest Pool Management for the first time this year. The company has upped hourly pay from $13 to $15 to help with retention -- a problem that exists around the country.

“Like many municipalities around the country, we are excited to open our pools starting this Memorial Day weekend despite shortages in lifeguards,” said the City of St. Louis’ spokesperson Nick Dunne. 

"While we are not able to open all pools full-time, we have allocated our available staffing resources so pools can be accessible to the communities who enjoy them. We have about 22 lifeguards on staff this summer including four new full-time positions that were added for this summer," Dunne said. "The City has been reaching out to school and youth groups, offering free certification courses and engaging communities throughout the city to hire lifeguards. We will continue to accept applications online and in person at every recreation center throughout the summer.”

5 On Your Side talked with Wyatt Werneth, a spokesperson with the American Lifeguard Association, while he was at a beach in Florida, where just yesterday a swimmer drowned.  

“If you look down behind me, there are no lifeguards for 30 miles," Werneth said.

He said more than half of public pools around the country have faced shutdowns or reduced hours because of lifeguard shortages.

“We need to take lifeguarding more serious," Werneth said.

For now, Macaluso is ready for the start of a fun season.

“We're really excited," she said.

But even with the extra hiring help, it’s not easy.

“Our challenges really come at the end of the summer when the students return to classes and fall sport and then, you know, their numbers go down in terms of lifeguards," she said. 


Midwest Pool Management is a third-party contracting company that many St. Louis area municipalities are working with in order to hire lifeguards. Midwest Pool Management Spokesperson Crissy Withrow says they are working to hire lifeguards at 48 pools at facilities ranging from apartment complexes, neighborhood pools and municipalities around St. Louis City and County, along with St. Charles, Lincoln and Franklin counties. 

The company has around 1,200 lifeguards in the St. Louis area that they work with in order to staff pools. The company has been in business for about 50 years. The company has worked with the City of Clayton for seven years. Lifeguard wages start at $15 an hour. 

To apply, head to https://midwestpool.com/apply.

“Some aquatic facilities have had issues with finding enough staff for the summer season even though enrollments have steadily increased for American Red Cross Lifeguarding Program courses for the past two years,” said Sharon Watson with the American Red Cross of Missouri. “People who are at least 15 years old and who have strong swimming skills, can enroll in a Red Cross Lifeguarding course conducted by one of our training providers. Upon successful completion, they receive a two-year certification in Lifeguarding, First Aid and CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer.”

Information is available at redcross.org/lifeguarding.

St. Louis continues its efforts to bring on more lifeguards and utility workers for the summer. Applicants are encouraged to apply online or stop in any rec center to fill out a paper application.

5 On Your Side has compiled a list of St. Louis-area swimming pools and waterparks that will be open throughout the summer. Find more information on the pools and hours here.

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