LINCOLN SQUARE — People who like to swim at the Chicago Park District’s indoor pools will have to look elsewhere this summer.
The Park District’s outdoor pools open to the public Friday. But its indoor pools at places like Welles Park, Independence Park and Portage Park will likely close Wednesday and stay shut during the summer because there aren’t enough lifeguards to oversee all the city-run beaches and pools, officials said.
“The Chicago Park District, like many organizations across the country, [is] experiencing the impact of the national lifeguard shortage,” said Michele Lemons, the park district’s director of communications.
The Park District manages 49 outdoor pools, 28 indoor pools and operates 14 Chicago Public School pools that offer community programs.
An additional 250 lifeguards are needed before indoor pools the district manages can reopen this summer, Lemons said. To try to get more lifeguards, the district has extended its application period though July 4.
A number of issues are driving the lifeguard shortage.
Chicago’s lifeguards have to pass a swimming test. However, passing the test has been an issue for this year’s crop of applicants, partially because of the pandemic.
“There’s a shortage for a multitude of reasons. A lot of it has to do with the fact that people have really not had anywhere to swim for the last year. So, they can’t pass the swim test that they have to do to be a lifeguard,” Becky Kliber, Welles Park’s supervisor, said at a May meeting of the park’s advisory council.
Typically, park districts across the country rely on a pipeline of swimming talent from junior lifeguard programs and local high school swim teams, said Tim Gill, a spokesperson for the United States Lifesaving Association. Due to the pandemic, many of those pipelines have been disrupted for more than a year.
In Chicago, the Park District postponed its 2020 and 2021 swim programs — including group swim, water polo, junior lifeguard and after-school lifeguard training — because of the pandemic. These programs typically provide as many as 300 lifeguard recruits, district officials said.
In contrast, areas of the country that were able to offer swimming options throughout 2020 don’t seem to be having the same issue finding qualified lifeguards, Gill said.
“It’s important for people to know that whether you’re looking at beaches or indoor and outdoor pools, there’s not a magic switch you can flip Memorial Day weekend and all of a sudden you have a bunch of lifeguards ready,” he said. “There’s a lot of training and logistical planning that goes into this. I think the shortage is going to affect this year and potentially next year, too.”
As for outdoor pools, they’ll be open Friday through Sept. 6 five days a week, according to the district. Schedules will be posted on the district’s website starting this week. But the district is encouraging people to call park field houses before going in case there are any changes to the schedule.
Pool capacities will be 50 percent of normal capacity, with a 100-person maximum to allow for social distancing. Entry to the pools is on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information on outdoor pools, click here.
People can apply to be a Park District lifeguard online.
Chicago lifeguard applicants need to have completed at least two years of high school, have an American Red Cross Lifeguarding certificate or equivalent and be certified as a:
- American Red Cross CPR for Professional Rescuer, or equivalent.
- American Red Cross First Aid, or equivalent.
- American Red Cross AED, or equivalent.
- American Red Cross Oxygen Administration, or equivalent.
- American Red Cross Bloodborne Pathogens Training or equivalent.
- Chicago Park District Lifeguarding Card.
Applicants must complete a test demonstrating they can:
- Complete a 200-yard swim in less than 3 minutes, 30 seconds (4 minutes, 30 seconds for shallow water attendants).
- Complete a 20-yard underwater swim .
- Retrieve a 10-pound object from a depth of 10-14 feet.
- Complete an approach stroke of 25 yards, retrieve a submerged mannequin in deep water and tow it 25 yards.
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