2005-08-05 / Community

Parks Fails To Meet Lifeguard Goal For Fifth Year

Pol Charges Beaches Understaffed, Guards Underpaid

By Howard Schwach

Despite the fact that Parks Department spokespersons continually say that the beaches are “fully manned” from July 1 to August 31, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum charged this week that the city agency has missed its lifeguard recruiting quota for the fifth year in a row and that one reason for that failure is the low salary paid to ocean lifeguards in relation to other large cities.

Gotbaum charges that the city needs 1,200 lifeguards to safeguard both its ocean beaches such as Rockaway and its pools.

Last year, the city managed to hire only 975 lifeguards, a shortfall of 225.

While the figures for this year have not yet been released, Parks officials say that there are more than 1,000 guards on duty.

Gotbaum said that New York City open water lifeguards earn far less than their equals in other cities.

According to her report, lifeguards in Los Angeles earn $18.40 an hour; in San Diego, $15.15 an hour; in Boston, $12.27 an hour and in Miami, $12.00 an hours. New York City lifeguards earn $10.08 an hour, although those recruited from other nations earn fifty cents more.

“New York City should be paying its lifeguards on the same scale as other cities,” Gotbaum said. “This is not some easy task. A lifeguard’s job is to save lives and they should be compensated for their work. Los Angeles pays its lifeguards eight dollars more an hour to start. We should be embarrassed.”

“If we paid them more, we’d get many more who want the job,” she argued.

Parks Department Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh told Daily News reporter Deborah Kolben, “We could always use more [lifeguards], and we are constantly recruiting. In fact, several dozen city lifeguards are recruited each summer from Poland and Eastern Europe.”

Parks officials say that the department’s goal is to have ninety percent of the beaches open on weekends and seventy-five percent of the beaches open during the week.

Officials admit, however, that they seldom meet those goals, something that Rockaway beachgoers can attest to.

There are more calls to The Wave each week complaining of closed beaches than for any other topic this time of the year.

Rockaway, however, is not the only area impacted by the lack of lifeguards. Coney Island residents and politicians have demonstrated their anger this summer over closed beaches.

Gotbaum links the lack of lifeguards to the number of drowning fatalities this year.

“The rate of drowning this year at city beaches is alarming. The city should provide beachgoers with the safest experience possible by making sure swimmers know about danger zones,” the Public Advocate said. “For the safety of people who enter the water when lifeguards are not on duty, swimming areas must be equipped with life-saving devices such as safety ropes.”

Gotbaum pointed to six drowning cases in the city this year, three in Rockaway, two in Coney Island and one in South Beach on Staten Island.

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