2007-05-11 / Front Page

Lifeguard Testing Situation Still Up In Air

By Miriam Rosenberg

By Miriam Rosenberg

A frustrated Dan Mundy, CB 14 Parks Committee chair, said the testing of lifeguards is a public safety issue. "I've kept low-key as far as a press attack, but as far as I am concerned the gloves are off," he said.
A frustrated Dan Mundy, CB 14 Parks Committee chair, said the testing of lifeguards is a public safety issue. "I've kept low-key as far as a press attack, but as far as I am concerned the gloves are off," he said. Community Board 14 members showed a high level of frustration this week as the never-ending saga of lifeguard testing in the city continues.

At Tuesday's CB 14 meeting, the head of the board's Parks Committee, Dan Mundy, reported that promises made by the Department of Parks and Recreation's First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh have not been kept.

"They said there would be a competition time clock for candidates to know how they did; there would be monitors to insure candidates would be treated fairly and report cards so, in instances where a candidate failed, they can know what they need to improve," said Mundy.

Final test sessions began on April 16, and according to Mundy, none of these procedures have been put in place.

"There have been instances where candidates failed and when they asked 'by what' they were told 'we don't know, we don't keep those records,'" continued Mundy. "As a result, candidates are disillusioned. They don't know by what they have to make up [in the tests]."

According to Mundy, Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Matt Gordon from the mayor's office have put in calls to Kavanagh to discuss the issue. As of 6 p.m. the night of the meeting, Mundy was informed there was no response from Kavanagh.

Abby Looten, a spokesperson for Parks and Recreation, responded on behalf of Kavanagh.

"Commissioner Kavanagh has returned all calls from Councilman Addabbo and has not been contacted by anyone else regarding lifeguard testing," Looten said in an email on Wednesday. "Had he received any calls, he would have gladly returned them."

Addabbo spoke to The Wave on Thursday morning.

"Kavanagh left a message on my cell phone," said Addabbo, but because Kavanagh was out of town, the councilman had to go higher - meaning Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

"The commissioner's office is not happy," continued Addabbo. "I've also spoken with the mayor's office. There's frustration on ours and the administration's sides.

"Although we appreciate their frustration, they actually promised us three things and we need the administration to do it."

Jonathan Gaska, the board's district manager, told The Wave that CB 14 has sent several letters about the issue to Kavanagh, but there has been no response.

As reported in The Wave on March 30, CB 14 board members, Addabbo and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer met with Kavanagh and Peter Stein, the president of Local 508 of the New York City Lifeguard Supervisors, along with representatives of the mayor's and city council speaker's offices to discuss the issue.

At the community board's April meeting, Chairperson Delores Orr announced Parks had agreed to all the suggestions previously made, and she reaffirmed that on Tuesday night.

Conflicting reports of the lifeguard testing practices still remain, as Looten countered the claims made at the board meeting.

"A clock has been in use to test all candidates who are completing the Municipal Lifeguard Training Program," said Looten. "Discussion about the clock did not begin until mid-March after which the qualifying testing had already begun (as of January), therefore we did not change the procedures already in place for qualifying. There is discussion about implementing the use of the clock during qualifying tests next year. In addition, candidates in the training program can receive a written evaluation from the instructors if they choose. There have been no complaints to Parks about the instructors."

Mundy explained that the January tests were short qualifying tests, as opposed to the final testing period, which has been going on since last month. Lifeguard candidates must swim 440 yards: beach lifeguards have six minutes and 40 seconds to complete the swim and pool lifeguards have seven minutes and 40 seconds.

Dan Mundy Jr., a former lifeguard, called it "mind boggling" that after 10 months of working on the lifeguard issues, nothing has been resolved.

"There's a vested interest inside the lifeguard union to protect their domain, and the end result is communities like ours are neglected," added board member Hank Iori.

Gaska believes a resolution may soon be coming.

"I seem to get the sense from Joe [Addabbo] and Matt [Gordon], they have gone above some heads, and we may get a resolution in the next week or so," Gaska told the board.

Addabbo also said there is reason for hope.

"In previous conversations with Commissioner Benepe, he said this summer will be better [for the Rockaways]," Addabbo said.

The new procedures in the testing system came about after Community Board 14 issued a report critical of the current testing.

The city's goal this year is to hire 1,200 lifeguards to staff the 14 miles of city beaches and more than 50 pools. This year there have been more than 1,300 applications for the lifeguard positions; two hundred more than the same time last year.

In a related issue, Mundy Jr. also commented on the beaches hours.

"Years ago, when I was a lifeguard, beaches were kept open late," said the younger Mundy.

Parks spokesperson Looten said, "We would love to extend hours at beaches citywide, and the Parks Commissioner will be studying the issue."

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