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South Dakota's Lifeguard Shortage Is Causing Delayed Summer Openings

SDPB Lifeguard
A lifeguard keeps a watchful eye on swimmers at the Terrace Park Pool in Sioux Falls.

Traditionally, high school and college-age lifeguards work during the summer. But the COVID-19 pandemic left an entire summer for the unemployed lifeguards to find other jobs.  

Darrell Shoemaker is the communications coordinator for Rapid City. He was worried about finding the 80 to 90 lifeguards the city needs.   

“People who may have served as a lifeguard the previous summer, they make plans to come out and be a lifeguard again or they’ll tell their friends to come out and check about being a lifeguard for the summer and the problem was we lost last summer,” Shoemaker said. 

Shoemaker said pools in Rapid City opened on time. The city offered a two-dollar pay increase. It also reimbursed 100 of the 185 dollars in lifeguard certification fees. The application process was also streamlined to improve efficiency and accessibility.  

Sioux Falls pools are not as fortunate.  

Don Kearney is the director of parks and recreation. He said openings are delayed for smaller pools.  McKennan Wading Pool and Frank Olson Pool are still closed. 

“A lot of the applicants that we’ve had are not willing to work the hours that we need them to,” Kearney said. 

Kearney said Sioux Falls also raised the wage two dollars.  

In Mitchell, Jamie Henkel is the aquatic and recreation coordinator.  

She retained lifeguards by employing them during the pandemic and throughout the school year. Henkel did not have to increase wages. 

“They were happy working two days a week, you know, just so they could still do activities, so I was really flexible during the winter,” Henkel said. 

In Sioux Falls, the city is conducting interviews and certification training courses to fill a dozen lifeguard positions.