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State and local agencies work to boost lifeguard ranks as summer season arrives

Even with DEEP's recent hirings, state swimming areas may see some days without a lifeguard.

CONNECTICUT, USA — Despite seeing a lifeguard shortage in the weeks leading up to the summer, things are looking up for lifeguard numbers at most of the state-run swim areas, but not every pool and waterway in Connecticut is out of the woods.

“There was definitely some challenges to recruitment and hiring this year,” said Sarah Battistini, water safety coordinator for Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). 

In Barkhamsted, the Lake McDonough beach area was for the Memorial Day weekend. Lifeguard positions for the area are still being filled. Until then, the beach area will remain closed, officials said.

RELATED: Lifeguard pay increased by DEEP to $19 an hour

DEEP saw the impacts as well when FOX61 spoke with them last month. They needed to nearly double their numbers to reach their goal.

But now, Battistini said they’ll have 90 lifeguards out at the beaches. She said that staffing works out to cover five days a week at inland parks and six to seven days at their shoreline locations, like Hamonasset Beach and Rocky Neck State Park.

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It’s swimming at your own risk outside of that window.

DEEP also boosted the starting pay for guards to $19 an hour. 

“We filled a majority of our positions and we’re really excited to have guard coverage at all eight locations for this upcoming summer,” Battistini said.

DEEP plans to phase in guard squads in time for the July 4th weekend.

RELATED: Seaside controversy gets salty in Old Lyme as town raises parking rates to $75

Battistini said DEEP is also looking at starting a junior lifeguard program to help fill their ranks in the future.

As for pools, some Parks and Recreation departments were able to dodge the shortage by working with local swim teams and high schools. East Hartford and South Windsor had luck with that this season.

“Recruiting lifeguards is a year-round deal for us,” said Ted Fravel, director of Parks and Recreation for East Hartford.

Farvel said East Hartford met their quota to staff their five outdoor pools all days of the week.

“We work closely with the high school during the year and a volunteer program. We run year-round Red Cross programs so kids can get trained,” he said.

South Windsor Recreation Supervisor of Aquatics Nancy Glynn said they’re set to operate at full capacity at Veteran’s Memorial Park.

“A lot of our lifeguards are returners year after year so we do our lifeguarding program, and we have our Seals Swim Team which is a great feeder for our aquatics facility,” Glynn said.

Connecticut has already seen several drownings this summer. Just last week, the body of a 24-year-old Bristol man was found in Candlewood Lake after officials say he fell off a boat and drowned last month. 

In May, a man drowned in a pond at a campground in Lisbon. The week before that, two more people lost their lives: a 16-year-old boy in Lyme and a kayaker in Guilford.

Elisha Machado is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at emachado@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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