Philly increasing pay for lifeguards and offering free training to boost the ranks

Parks and Recreation commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell (Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

Parks and Recreation commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell (Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

Philadelphia has increased the starting pay for city lifeguards to $16 an hour as officials hope to get more candidates to apply.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell made an urgent plea Wednesday morning at Samuel Recreation Center pool in Port Richmond, where she said filling the available lifeguard spots for about 70 city pools is very difficult.

“At Philly Parks and Rec, we hire between 700 and 800 staff members every single summer to make sure that Philadelphians, especially our youngest Philadelphians, can have a fun, safe summer experience at our pools,” she said.

About half of that number are lifeguards and the others are pool maintenance technicians, who are also essential to keeping the pool up and running.

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The city is offering free training for 16 to 24-year-olds to entice more young people to apply for a summer job. Instructor Thelma Nesbitt said they are seeking people from all parts of the city.

“We need more young people to come out and train to be a lifeguard this summer, not just to give Philly a fun summer, which is certainly much needed, but because our city pools save lives,” she said.

Nesbitt said there are some challenging qualifications to become a Philly lifeguard.

“The candidate will have to be able to swim 300 yards, swim nonstop, demonstrating freestyle and breaststroke, and tread water for two minutes without using their arms– so, it was all legwork – and retrieving a 10-pound weight in deep water, whether it’s seven feet or 10 feet or 12 feet.”

She added that even though people may not have been swimming in a while, it will all come back to them. Nesbitt said even if people don’t know how to swim, they will work with qualified applicants to give them the skills necessary for the job.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas was also at the announcement, where he reinforced the need to open the pools to make them “safe havens” this summer. He said pools and recreation centers can be used “to assure that our young people have some level of positive activities that they could choose to participate in on a consistent basis.”

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Applicants can find out more information on the city’s website, where they can also register for the skills building, training, and pre-screening appointments necessary for the position.

Applicants over the age of 24 are still welcome to apply and encouraged to do so, said Ott Lovell, but a certification fee of $110 dollars will apply for the training.

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