Lifeguard shortage could mean reduced hours, closures at many Metro Detroit pools

‘Other bodies of water may not be as safe’

As we inch closer and closer to Memorial Day weekend, many pools in Metro Detroit are opening up for the summer season -- but they need more lifeguards and fast. If they don’t get help, it could mean reduced hours or closures.

As we inch closer and closer to Memorial Day weekend, many pools in Metro Detroit are opening up for the summer season -- but they need more lifeguards and fast. If they don’t get help, it could mean reduced hours or closures.

“When I get in the water in between shifts I swim the front crawl,” said lifeguard Malachi Taylor.

Taylor is swimming laps at Downtown Detroit’s YMCA location. He’s been swimming his whole life. As luck would have it, his love for swimming would take this former Door Dasher down a new career path at the Boll Family YMCA.

“I was doing a Door Dash order,” Taylor said. “They had a sign, and it said they were hiring so I was like ‘alright. I want to try something new, let me get into it.’”

Taylor dove right in and became a certified lifeguard. He watches over the pool and teaches swimming classes but the need for more lifeguards is still a sinking problem.

“People just don’t want to do this kind of job,” Taylor said.

“Many people think to become a lifeguard you have to be a strong swimmer that, maybe, was on the high school swim team and that’s just not the truth,” Lexi Brown said.

Brown is the Director of Aquatics for the YMCA. She needs 200 lifeguards to operate all of the branch’s pools at full capacity. Right now, she only has 125.

“(The shortage) is pretty significant everywhere,” Brown said.

It’s not just a problem at the YMCA. Oakland County Parks has been dealing with this problem for about 10 years. They need to hire 70 lifeguards.

Macomb County needs about 20 to 30 lifeguards. The City of Detroit is looking to hire 50 lifeguards. The solution? Reducing hours of operation or worse, closing down.

“It would affect our day because if we’re not able to swim then we have to figure out other options and suggestions to do it,” said Danieshia Conley. “I know that other gyms are more expensive.”

Conley is concerned limited hours because of the lifeguard shortage will leave her with no other options for fitness with her family. They regularly swim at the Butzel Rec Center in Detroit. Others are concerned about safety.

“The people that want to swim are going to find other places to swim and those other bodies of water may not be as safe,” Brown said.

“When they all close down, then typically kids tend to go get into other things and that can be dangerous in a sense,” Taylor said.

“The shortage isn’t really getting worse for us, it’s just a challenge that we are having to get creative and pivot,” Brown said.

Brown and Taylor are working to make lifeguarding more attractive and in turn, save lives. At The YMCA, the pay ranges from $11 to $14.50 an hour. Lifeguards can also teach classes.

Each staff member gets a YMCA membership for their entire family, a $300 sign-on bonus, and a pension after two years. They’ll even teach you to swim if need be and train you on-site to get your lifeguard certified. On top of it all, it’s fulfilling work.

“You can’t describe the feeling,” said Brown. “It is knowing that if we weren’t there or if our staff wasn’t trained correctly or they weren’t prepared for that person’s life could have turned out very differently, it makes me very proud.”

“Broadening your horizons, it helps you anyway,” said Malachi. “It helps in different areas and aspects of your life.”

And with this career path at The YMCA he won’t ever have to go back to working Door Dash. If you can swim or want to learn how and have been considering a different career or job, you can help combat this lifeguard shortage and save lives.

For more information on becoming a lifeguard, the training required, and more, please visit the websites listed below:


About the Author:

Evrod Cassimy is the morning anchor for Local 4 News Today. He joined WDIV in August of 2013. He is an award winning journalist and a six-time Emmy Award nominee. Evrod was born in Michigan but grew up in the Chicagoland area.