Lack of Lifeguards affecting Ottawa beaches, pools and learning to swim programs
With temperatures heading towards record highs this week, public beaches and pools are a popular way to cool off, but many facilities in the city of Ottawa are facing a shortage of lifeguards, forcing some to reduce hours and cancel swimming classes.
Patrick Fournier, Portfolio Manager at Ottawa’s Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex in Orleans says, of the 5,000 classes planned this season, so far only 50 learn to swim classes have been cancelled.
"We have had to make modifications to swims due to staff shortages. We don’t like to cancel any classes, so we are making our best efforts to find staff," Fournier said. "In most cases, we have had to reduce the capacity or we have had to cancel the swim completely."
This potentially leaves hundreds of people who don’t know how to swim, out of luck this summer.
The Lifesaving Society of Ontario is marking national drowning prevention week, starting Monday. Barbara Byers, a Senior Research Officer for the society says people not being able to access swimming classes or not being supervised by lifeguards can put them at risk.
"It is the time of year when most people are around the water and sadly the greatest number of drownings happen in the month of July," Byers said. "I’m concerned those kids that will still be in the water, don’t have the skills they need, but would have learned if they had taken lessons."
According to Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who was a lifeguard, part of the shortage is caused by the low wages paid to lifeguards and the expense of becoming qualified.
"It takes time to be a lifeguard; you need to learn to swim, you need to do all the training, it’s a lot of money, then you get the same wages as working in a retail environment," Fleury said. "The wages have not been competitive for youth."
The National Capital Commission is also having trouble staffing public beaches.
"From Friday, June 17, to Monday, September 5, 2022, lifeguards will be on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the O’Brien, Blanchet, Breton, Parent, Smith and La Pêche Lake beaches. However, given the shortage of lifeguards, some beaches may be unsupervised at certain times," the NCC said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa. "Staff shortage is an ongoing issue that’s been happening province-wide. The NCC urges the public to be cautious when swimming and keep personal safety in mind. Swimming is permitted only within the swimming areas marked by buoys."
Bottom line, Byers says, if you cannot get your kids into swimming classes for the summer please register them in the fall and stay on it.