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West Vancouver won't have enough lifeguards for local beaches this summer

Do you know any aspiring Hasselhoffs? West Van is so short on lifeguards that they are now covering the costs of training.
lifeguard web
West Vancouver lifeguard Spencer Dicaire on duty in the summer of 2012. Because of a shortage of lifeguards in 2022, the municipality is now paying to train hires.

If the District of West Vancouver can’t hire some lifeguards in a hurry, local beaches will likely go unwatched this summer.

There is a shortage of lifeguards around B.C. right now, thanks to the pandemic disrupting the usual pipeline of training for new lifeguards, but West Vancouver is being hit particularly hard. The municipality has still not been able to return to full operating hours at its pool.

“In May 2019, we had almost 100 staff going into the summer, and in May of 2022, we have 32,” said Jill Lawlor, senior manager of community services for the district. “We are trying to strategize which beaches we can open and for how long. We will not be able to have our beaches open as fully as we did in 2019.”

People who go in the water when there is no one on duty will have to do so at their own risk. Lifeguards respond to nearly 200 incidents each summer on the beaches at Ambleside and Dundarave, Lawlor said, while lifeguards at West Vancouver Aquatic Centre respond to an average of 300 incidents annually.

The shortage is also impacting the ability to hire teachers for swimming lessons. When registration opened this year, every one of the 437 slots available was booked in within two minutes. That compares to more than 1,700 spaces available in 2019.

“What that means is that our children, especially over the COVID years, haven't had the chance to learn how to swim. These young kids are coming into their preteen or teen years and I think we're going to forget that they don't know how to swim,” she said. “And we're going to be in a very dire situation.”

Lifeguarding or teaching is often seen as an attractive job for teens as they finish high school and go through university because it’s relatively high paying and the hours are flexible.

To start, West Van pays $24.87 per hour, plus 12 per cent in lieu of benefits.

Competition to hire lifeguards is stiff, and West Van may be at a unique disadvantage, Lawlor acknowledged.

“If you just take a look at our demographics that we have … we don't have that same population of youth or younger adults to draw on,” she said. “Typically, if you look at our staff that work out of community services, we have a lot of people that commute into West Vancouver, and given the rising cost of transportation to get to West Vancouver, that puts a barrier on it.”

To sweeten the deal, the district is now offering to pay for the National Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor training and certification of new hires. Together, that amounts to about $1,000 in savings.

The positions are open to anyone over the age of 16 (although people of any age can make great lifeguards, Lawlor noted). Applicants must already have their bronze cross in standard first aid. Applications must be filed with the district by June 6. The training will run from June 17 to July 13, and new hires can expect to be on the water immediately after.

As a happy aside, the courses also count toward high school credits, Lawlor said.

More than a solid paycheque and a chance to hang out by the pool or beach all summer, becoming a lifeguard is an incredibly rewarding experience for life. Lawlor knows this first hand.

“My first rescue was when I was 17 years old, and I dove in to rescue a 12-year-old boy who was having a seizure, fully unconscious and not breathing,” she said. “I resuscitated him, and he stayed with me. He’s stayed with me my entire life and anytime I'm on the water, I'm always lifeguarding. Lifeguards make a difference and we allow people to be safe.”

More information is available through the District of West Vancouver.

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