After Massachusetts struggled last summer with a shortage of lifeguards, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation is in a better position this summer to staff its beaches, pools and other swimming facilities.
The state has 623 lifeguards already hired this summer, up from 580 employees last summer, according to the department.
Officials say an hourly wage increase and bonus program, along with free lifeguard training, have helped attract more applicants for this season, which begins Memorial Day weekend.
“We’ve had a very good response rate and a very good universe of applicants and that’s because we’ve been basically working on recruiting since late last summer,” said Stephanie Cooper, acting DCR commissioner.
Cooper said DCR reviewed lifeguard recruitment programs across the country. A funding increase from the Baker administration allowed the hourly pay rate to rise from $20 to $21 last summer, to $21 to $26 an hour, depending on a lifeguard’s level of training.
They also created incentives of $500 for applicants who signed up in March and $500 for lifeguards who will work until the last day of the season. DCR has also partnered with the American Red Cross and YMCA to provide free lifeguard training.
Cooper said those incentives and being “very aggressive in recruiting” put them in a good position for this summer when it comes to lifeguard coverage.
Gov. Charlie Baker and other state officials held a press conference in Milton last week to announce the return of the DCR summer recreation facilities that opened on Saturday.
The DCR manages 81 public baths. Of these, 16 will have lifeguards from this weekend. That number will steadily increase until 29 are kept by the peak summer season, officials said.
Remaining properties are unguarded and people swim at their own risk. Baker and others have urged the public to take precautions in or around pools and beaches this season.
“We have taken significant steps over the past two years to increase water safety throughout the state park system and educate everyone about their swimming abilities, understanding water temperatures and being safe. vigilant when in the water,” Baker said in a statement.
Last year, the state recorded an alarming number of drownings, particularly in May when water temperatures are still cold in the winter.
To increase public safety, DCR has also installed multilingual signage at the water’s edge and added rescue rings at many locations, according to Cooper.
The state is also still recruiting lifeguards. During a training session held Friday at Nantasket Beach in Hull, newly recruited lifeguards went over “emergency action plans”, said James Mahoney, the chief lifeguard.
“We’re going to see if there was like a missing child, or if there was a drowning or any other emergency that we see, we tend to see a lot of heatstroke,” said Mahoney, 20, who was a lifeguard for five years.
Nantasket Beach has eight watch stations that each require three guards. But last summer, the shortage of lifeguards sometimes meant there were only two people available to outfit them, Mahoney said.
“There was definitely less than the amount needed,” he said.
New lifeguard recruits will need to complete a certification program offered by either the American Red Cross or the YMCA. Certifications are available free of charge in partnership with DCR, said Allison Pettine-Calise, aquatics coordinator for DCR’s southern region.
“I’m excited for every summer,” Pettine-Calise said. “I’m thinking of this one in particular because we’re able to provide so much more training than we’ve had in the last couple of years with the pandemic and it’s great to see people get out there and take advantage of it. new from state parks.”
Those interested in becoming a lifeguard should visit mass.gov/guides/dcr-lifeguarding.
Grace Gilson can be reached at [email protected]