2001-04-14 / Front Page

Lifeguard Recruiting a

Lifeguard Recruiting a

Washout for Rockaway

By Howard Schwach

With the beginning of the summer beach season only six weeks away, the Parks Department is once again having trouble finding the number of qualified lifeguards necessary to fully staff Rockaway beaches.

"I cannot say the tides are in our favor," Parks Commissioner Henry Stern recently told reporters. "I don’t know how a generation of young Americans can be taught to swim."

The lack of candidates for the one-prestigious summer jobs comes not because the Parks Department is not trying to find qualified lifeguards. Rather, experts say, there are a number of reasons why many of our beaches may once again be closed, albeit for short periods, this summer.

The first reason is the one that Stern alluded to in his statement.

"It is not cool to swim," says a Parks official. "At least, not cool to swim well enough to complete two lengths of the pool in 35 seconds," the requirement to begin training as a beach lifeguard.

The second reason that not many young adults want to be lifeguards, according to experts, is that they often have enough money to forego a summer job or that they would rather volunteer in some field more related to their future career goal – even if it means that they will not get paid for that work.

The third problem is that children are not learning to swim in the numbers that they were in the past.

"There are not enough programs for kids to reach the level of expertise they need to become lifeguards," one lifeguard official says. "There are a lot of little kids learning to swim, but when you get to the critical 12-16 age level, they are no longer motivated to build their skills."

Finally, most of the candidates who do apply for the job fail to pass the gateway test to go into training. They cannot swim the two laps (50 yards) in the required 35 seconds. Some of the people who went to a recent session in Astoria heard of the requirement and did not even enter the poll. They just quietly left. Among the others who did take the test, only a small percentage managed to qualify

The Parks Department has stepped up its recruiting, particularly in the immigrant community in Northern Queens. It has opened a pool in Astoria for qualification tests and training. The Parks Department believes that many immigrant children have been taught to swim in their native lands and could qualify for the lifeguard positions.

Surprisingly, according to local residents, they have not opened a poll on the peninsula for the same purpose. Last year, the poll at Far Rockaway High School was used as a testing and training site.

What does this mean for Rockaway?

It means that once again some beaches in Rockaway may be closed, particularly for the first month, when high school and college students are still tied up with their studies.

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