Lifeguards wanted: Philly waiving application, certification fees for young candidates

Philadelphia could not open all of its pools last summer due to a lifeguard shortage. The city hopes to avoid that fate this year.

Breana Cooper on watch from the lifeguard stand

File photo: Breana Cooper, 25, has been a lifeguard for 7 years and was just rectified at Samuel Recreation Center in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department is seeking 400 people to join their lifeguard force to protect swimmers in their pools this year.

Bill Salvatore, of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the department could only train about 250 people to take care of the city’s pools last year, so they are recruiting early this year to train more people for the job.

“The primary way that we recruit is really hyperlocal,” Salvatore said. “We rely on our leaders in our facilities to recruit from the neighborhood. And then we also do citywide recruitment efforts.”

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The city is not just looking for teens and young adults. Park officials are willing to train anyone — even those who cannot swim — to do the job. That’s why they are starting so early.

Philadelphia lifeguard test from newsroom on Vimeo.

The minimum requirements to take the lifeguard course are:

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  • Swim 300 yards non-stop.
  • Tread water for 2 minutes using only your legs.
  • Retrieve a 10-pound brick from a 12-foot deep well, return to the surface, and swim 20 yards back to the starting point while holding the brick out of the water with both hands.

The city is offering free swimming lessons for those who don’t meet the requirements but are willing to commit to the effort.

Salvatore said officials expect many of the 250 guards who worked last year will be back again, but even if 200 return, that would create a deficit of 200 that need to be recruited and trained in time for the opening of the pool season.

The city pays lifeguards between $16 and almost $18 an hour depending on experience for 35 hours of work a week. Salvatore said the skills learned are useful in a college setting, or for working as a lifeguard at private and other pools in the winter months.

More information on Philly lifeguard operations can be found online. Those interested may sign up for testing to see if they qualify for the training course. The Parks and Recreation Department will cover all certification and application costs for any lifeguard age 24 or younger.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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