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Milwaukee County still struggling to find enough lifeguards

Posted at 8:58 PM, May 20, 2022

MILWAUKEE — This news is going to be a hard pill for Milwaukee County families to swallow: Less than half of their outdoor water parks will be open this year.

Plus, Bradford Beach will have no lifeguards. It will be "Swim at your own risk."

Parks leaders are yet again blaming the life-guard shortage as recruiting has only gotten worse.

The starting salary for a Milwaukee County Parks lifeguard is the highest it's ever been, at $16 an hour. It can go up to $22 an hour, depending on the lifeguard's experience. So why are the parks still 140 lifeguards short to start the season?

The Milwaukee County Parks Deputy Director Jim Tarantino gave us the same reason for a shortage that leaders gave us three years ago. "Really to be a lifeguard you have to be the strongest swimmer at the pool, to be able to rescue people - because really what you're doing is guarding life," said Tarantino.

This year they were hoping to hire on 200 lifeguards. Right now they have just 60.

Which is why just four out of nine outdoor water parks in the county will be open this year.

When we spoke to county leaders in 2019, the goal was to have 300 lifeguards. But they could only recruit 180.

TMJ4's Julia Fello: "Was it already kind of pre-set, where you kind of knew you weren't going to be able to hire as many people, you weren't going to be able to have the pools open, so that number was lower than 2019?"

Tarantino: "Yes, unfortunately every year we're seeing less and less recruits."

But private clubs in Greendale and Fox Point tell us they are fully staffed with lifeguards for their pools.

In fact, an employee at the Town Club in Fox Point said they had so many lifeguard applicants this year, they turned some away.

Fello: "Those private locations, they're getting too many applicants. So why is it that Milwaukee County isn't getting enough?"

Tarantino: "I haven't heard of that to be honest with you."

Recruiting efforts by Milwaukee County Parks leaders started as early as December of last year, to get staff fully certified.

Usually families can turn to splash pads or wading pools in our area. But staffing overall may affect whether all of those locations will open as well.

Tarantino understands how disappointing this news will be for area families.

"It gives everyone from every walk of life something positive and be active," said Tarantino. "We're stuck inside for nine months out of the year in Wisconsin, so we really want to maximize our time."

Milwaukee County Parks leaders are still looking for experienced lifeguards. On Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Pulaski Pool, you could be hired right on the spot when you try out.

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