Lifeguards at one local pool are working longer hours amid the nationwide lifeguard shortage.

The shortage has affect a third of pools nationwide and resulted in the closure of all but five of Indianapolis’ 17 pools. Locally, Franklin Family Aquatic Center and Freedom Springs in Greenwood are almost fully staffed, but at Edinburgh Aquatic Center, lifeguards and the pool manager are working longer hours to pick up the slack.

This year Edinburgh has 15 lifeguards compared to the desired staff level of 21. The shortage has resulted in lifeguards working 30 hours a week instead of 21 and manager Eric Whitlock working between 54 and 62 hours a week rather than the typical 40 to 48. Lifeguards usually work three to four days a week, but they’re working five to six days a week in order to keep the pool open, Whitlock said.

“For young workers, it’s tough to not have as many days off when it’s 90-degree, 100-degree days, it’s tough for them to work in the sun day after day,” Whitlock said. “We are meeting the needs of the pool, but we’re not able to do as many of our extra activities, like we can’t have our night swims, which are three times a summer. We’ve only been able to schedule one summer splash where all the guards come in and play with the kids more. It’s just cut back.”

To combat the shortage, Edinburgh raised the hourly wage of lifeguards from $8 to $9 an hour and covered the expenses of lifeguard training, which typically costs about $200. Because lifeguards get certified in the spring for the summer season, the amount of lifeguards on staff now is likely all they have for the summer, he said.

“We’re in a situation where it’s too late to take in lifeguards,” Whitlock said. “We normally hire in February, and their training is in March and April for most lifeguarding classes. There’s no relief for the summer unless someone is already certified.”

Freedom Springs in Greenwood started recruiting for lifeguards as soon as the 2021 pool season ended on Labor Day. As a result, the aquatics center was able to stay fully staffed despite shortages elsewhere, with 75 lifeguards and 50 to 60 concessions and admissions associates hired prior to the summer season. Freedom Springs also raised wages for lifeguards from $10 to $13 an hour and raised wages for concessions and admissions associates from $9 to $12 an hour, said Brooke Gilles, aquatics manager.

“We put a lot of effort in the off-months during the winter and fall during the hiring process. Right when the pool closed on Labor Day, we went into hiring for the next season. We reached out to a lot of high schools that have junior lifeguarding programs during school. We’re trying to get our name out there and alleviate a potential problem of a lifeguard shortage,” Gilles said. “We have noticed, at least with the past year, we have a lot of staff come back and work for us for years to come. Kids will work three or four years and when they’re out of college, they’ll come back and make it a career type thing. We keep it a fun, light, positive environment for the staff who work for us.”

The Franklin Family Aquatic Center has 58 outdoor lifeguards of the 60 target number. Aquatics Director Kendall Ayers says lifeguarding classes the pool hosts help pull in lifeguards from not just Franklin, but surrounding areas as well.

“I know a lot of pools have their own staff train here. We were able to do a lot this past winter as far as open lifeguarding classes,” Ayers said. “It tends to help. Out of our 58 here, we have about 10 of them from Indian Creek, Whiteland areas, a couple from surrounding areas. It’s not just all Franklin kids.”

Starting wages for lifeguards were also bumped up from $9 to $10 an hour, he said.

There is more of an issue with indoor lifeguards at the facility. The aquatic center has seven indoor lifeguards, while the idea number would be 14, he said.

“We had to cut a couple of lap swim hours, but as far as keeping them staffed for the swim team we asked those that had to do it to bite the bullet and work different hours. Typically, we would have morning lap swims Monday through Thursday but we cut it down to two days a week,” Ayers said. “It helps to be out in the sun, and indoor (lifeguarding) is more isolated, it’s just you and one other guard. We haven’t had anyone come in looking for indoor classes recently.”