Wisconsin faces major lifeguard staffing crisis

New bill hopes to change that

RACINE -- While some students spend their winter break on the slopes, a group in Racine is in the pool learning lifesaving skills. 

The YMCA in Racine is holding lifeguard training classes. Even though it’s the middle of December and there’s snow on the ground, the "Y"  is working to keep its lifeguard roster full. 

“We’re in constant need of lifeguards. We employ 50 to 55 right now, but we could use another 5 to 10 to fulfill all the needs that we have,” said Jeff Collen. The CEO of the YMCA in Racine. 

The YMCA is not alone. The Westwood Health Fitness Center in Pewaukee has closed classes or shut down a section of its pool because of a staffing crisis. 

“We did have to cut some of our classes because we couldn’t find the staff, “ said  Kari Reuland with Westwood Health Fitness. “We’re always looking for guards.” 

Wisconsin is unique. The American Red Cross certifies lifeguards at the age of 15, but state law requires lifeguards to be at least 16 years old to work in our state. 

“We had a couple of students recently, one who had gotten certified at the beginning of the summer but didn't turn 16 until August so we had to wait 3 months to bring him on board with us,” said Reuland. 

A bill headed to the senate could change that. If it passes,  it would allow 15-year-olds to work as lifeguards in Wisconsin. The measure lowers the minimum age from 16 to 15.

“All the states that I've been to, at other YMCA's in Maryland, Texas, Illinois, the age is 15. It will really help us if the bill goes through. It will provide a whole new group of kids,” said Collen. 

The YMCA in Racine needs to ramp up its lifeguard numbers.

This spring, a new $6.5 million dollar Aquatic Center will be finished and Racine needs between 30 to 50 additional lifeguards to staff the new pools. 

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