Lack of lifeguards at Haleyville City Pool not a new problem

Tim Robertson, director of the Haleyville Parks and Recreation Department, gives instructions to lifeguards before they start to work at the pool. Lifeguards, from left, J.B. Crumpton, Adyson Robertson, Posey Whiteside, Emma Ballenger and Melissa Boshell.

HALEYVILLE  - There have always been ebbs and flows in the lifeguard situation at the Haleyville Swimming Pool, but recent social media posts about the uncertainty of the pool’s future due to lifeguard shortages is being addressed by city officials.
Posts stating that the Haleyville Swimming Pool is closing due to the lack of lifeguards and other issues are among statements being strongly clarified by city officials.
“The safety of the public comes first,” Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri said. “We would like to keep the pool open even extended hours, but you have to have people who are qualified, who  are certified to be lifeguards.
“If we can’t  have that, then we are not going to open the pool,” the mayor continued. “We’re not going to risk the danger of anyone being injured or killed because we didn’t have adequate protection there with lifeguards.”  
“You have to have the staff there,” Sunseri emphasized. “It’s the same situation we had during COVID.  I never knew how many people we had  coming to work every day.”
Sunseri also addressed concerns from the public about the pay for lifeguards.
“Something was brought up about the salaries of lifeguards,” Sunseri said. “We just gave the lifeguards and employees a $1 an hour raise, so I don’t think that’s a factor.”
Lifeguards started out at $7.25 an hour, but the Haleyville City Council recently approved a $1 an hour raise to every employee, which put lifeguards making $8.25 an hour, city officials said.
The problem with the lifeguard situation, Sunseri added, is most of the young people who work as lifeguards during the summer have school starting in August, as well as sporting events required at school.
“So, you lose your senior lifeguards and that puts us in an awkward situation,” Sunseri explained.
Also during the summer months, lifeguards and their families go on vacations, which can hinder the number of lifeguards available to work at the swimming pool, the mayor stated.
“Some weeks everyone is available. Some weeks, half of them are available,” Sunseri continued. “This is every year.”
The city pool did have to shut down early last year because they didn’t have enough lifeguards, the mayor confirmed.
So far for the month of June, the pool has had to shut down five days due to lifeguard shortages, confirmed Tim Robertson, director of the Haleyville Parks and Recreation Department.
Robertson noted he currently has 11.5 lifeguards to work this summer at the pool. The half a lifeguard is a teenager who works the concession stand who cannot currently serve as a lifeguard due to knee surgery.
Last year, the city started out with 14 lifeguards but had a few quit, according to Robertson.
“By the end of the season, I was down to 10 (lifeguards). At the end of July, I had to close a couple of days because I didn’t have enough to cover it,” Robertson stated.
Robertson did not term the current lifeguard situation as a shortage, but noted it was often difficult to schedule lifeguards to work due to their hectic summer schedules.
“You’ve got kids who are taking summer classes.  Most of our lifeguards are athletes, so they have play dates,” said Robertson. “They have practices and workouts.”
Robertson also has three students from Double Springs driving to Haleyville to work as lifeguards, he said.
“So it’s just a mixture of everything with these kids,” he said.
This means that Robertson “does the best he can” when scheduling kids to work as lifeguards at the pool during the summer.
“I wanted (the pool) to be open six days a week like we normally are, but when these kids have other things going on, there’s not much you can do,” said Robertson.
On an average day, Robertson has five lifeguards on a shift. “I can run it with four, but with those five days (in June), I was down to like one or two guards that could only work those days,” he said.
As the city enters July, known as a major month for vacations, Robertson will know more when the lifeguard schedules are made out and turned in for the month as to how many lifeguards he will have, he said.
July is busy with the Independence Day holiday, as well as “dead week”, or the third week in July.
“A lot of these kids plan vacation around the 4th (of July) and dead week so they will not miss  workouts and play dates,” Robertson pointed out.
Five of the lifeguards are volleyball players, with their activity kicking off soon, city officials added.
“They’ll have play dates they have to be at  through the week and on weekends also,” he noted.
The pool annually opens the Tuesday after Memorial Day and closes the Saturday before school starts, which will be Aug. 6, this year. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.  Pool parties can be scheduled after normal operating hours, Robertson said.
 The cost of using HALEYthe pool is $5 per person with $170 to rent the pool, not including $80 to rent lifeguards for special events. This brings the grand total to $250 for a rental for two hours and four lifeguards, Robertson said.
“All these kids are high school kids.  Once school starts, they have practices from 3 (p.m.) to whenever, and I just won’t have lifeguards at that point,”  Robertson said.
Robertson noted there has always been issues with lifeguards, from having too many  to the point he could not hire them all, to having fewer lifeguards.  The COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years did not help matters, according to Robertson.
“We had a little more interest this year,” he said. “I hired seven new lifeguards this year, and I’ve actually had three more come and try out mid-pool season here, and they couldn’t pass the water test,” Robertson continued.
A person must be at least 15-years-old to be a lifeguard, but there is no age limit. Adults, he added, were welcome to come try out for lifeguards, as long as they can pass the initial swim test. The class costs $200 in order to learn the lifeguard skills.



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