News - DeKalb County

Hiring lifeguards for area’s pools, beaches on hold because of COVID-19

Lifeguard Ashley Clinton of Elburn watches over the plunge pool at the Geneva Park District's Sunset Pool.

The DeKalb Park District finds itself in an odd position of going through a hiring process, but not actually hiring.

Greg Bruggeman, the DeKalb Park District superintendent of recreation, wants to be prepared the moment that Gov. JB Pritzker allows the state’s pools and water parks to open. Under the “Restore Illinois” plan unveiled by Pritzker on Tuesday, all places of recreation would open under Phase 5 of the state’s five-point plan, but gatherings of 50 people or fewer could occur, along with outdoor recreation under Phase 4. The plan does not specifically address public pools.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted many normal activities and has put water facilities far behind where they normally would be in terms of training and hiring lifeguards.

When pools and water parks can open, Bruggeman wants his park district to act fast.

“We’re going through the hiring process right now, although we’re not offering positions,” Bruggeman said. “We’re identifying people and letting them know where they stand with us, because if and when the state allows us to open up the facilities, we’re going to be able to respond quickly. That is our goal. As an agency, we don’t want to respond in days or weeks, we want to respond in hours. That’s our intention.”

Bruggeman said the DeKalb Park District normally hires about 45 lifeguards and has 20 staff planning on returning. He hopes it can use those people and quickly train the other 25 needed within two or three weeks.

Joliet Park District executive director Brad Staab said the park district normally would have hired lifeguards in January and February, then trained and certified them through March, April and May. Joliet’s biggest attraction is Splash Station Waterpark.

“This definitely complicates the matter,” Staab said. “We’d use the entire spring to get people ready, certified and trained, and get a schedule. Basically, that’s been stopped since the middle of March. It’s a big holding pattern. We’re waiting to see, kind of like everyone else, what the restrictions will be.”

Nicole Thompson, the McHenry Park District’s athletics and aquatics supervisor, feels fortunate that many of her lifeguards are already certified.

“I officially offer positions starting in January to returning staff,” Thompson said. “I have been lucky by having a high return rate each summer. We operate one outdoor pool and one beach, I have around 30 on staff and I only had to hire five new this summer.”

There are portions of the American Red Cross Lifeguarding class that prospective guards can take online. The Red Cross has extended current certifications for 120 days because of COVID-19.

“For in-person skill trainings, we are waiting to hear the new guidelines,” said Kurt Reckamp, the Crystal Lake Park District superintendent of recreational programs and facility services. “We have 36 returning staff and are working on more new hires. Our returning lifeguards are certified, but some of the new hires will need to become certified.”

The Crystal Lake Park District has beaches at Crystal Lake Main Beach, Crystal Lake West Beach and Three Oaks Recreation Area. The park district pushed back its opening date tentatively to June 22.

Bruggeman raised questions about what can happen when pools and water parks can begin training.

“We’re still trying to figure out how you teach CPR to someone who can’t be within 6 feet,” Bruggeman said. “There’s a lot to work through. We have answers on some things, but we’re still working through difficult ones like the CPR question.”

Although some lifeguard training can be done remotely, the most valuable part is hands-on.

“Certification requires you to get in the water,” Staab said. “So there’s not much remotely you can do there. We obviously would have to use a compressed time schedule. We’d have to hire a bunch of people and get them trained in a really short period of time. It would make it much more difficult.”

Joe Stevenson

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.