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Lifeguard Shortages Will Keep Some Philadelphia Pools From Reopening

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Philadelphia, public pools are opening for the first time in two years. But due to a lifeguard hiring shortage, about a third of the city's pools were not able to open this summer. Robby Brod from member station WHYY has more from opening day in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

ROBBY BROD, BYLINE: At James Finnegan Playground in southwest Philly, the sun beats down on the hottest day of the season to date, with temperatures nearly reaching 100 degrees. Dozens of kids scream and cannonball into the deep end, exploding through the calm blue water inside the first pool to reopen in the city. Malaya Adams (ph) is splashing around in the shallow end.

MALAYA ADAMS: I feel good. And, yeah, I'm excited to be back. I come to this pool a lot, and I go to the rec center a lot.

BROD: Last year, her mom, Syeita Adams (ph), struggled to find activities for Malaya. So she's excited that now the city's kids have a safe place to cool off.

SYEITA ADAMS: Keep them out of trouble, out of the street. They could be here, swim, cool down. Ain't got to be hot. So, yeah, I do think it's good.

BROD: This year, lifeguard recruitment was especially difficult since Philly's Parks and Recreation Department was unable to use its usual strategies in high schools across the city. To attract more lifeguards, the city increased wages to $15 an hour, conducted a media campaign urging people to apply and had virtual job fairs. The department attributed the hiring problems to a national trend of lifeguard shortages.

Flora Hernandez (ph) is a new lifeguard. Today is her first day ever on the lifeguard stand. She's excited to hit the water this year since she spent last year rehabbing a torn ACL.

FLORA HERNANDEZ: It's nice being back, you know, like being able to have everyone swim and have a nice summer.

BROD: Ultimately, the city was able to hire about 60% of the lifeguards needed, enough to staff about 70% of the city's 68 pools. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell admits it was difficult to decide which neighborhoods could reopen their pools.

KATHRYN OTT LOVELL: We're really proud that we have 79% of the pools that we're opening are in communities where the income level is $45,000 or less.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIDS PLAYING IN POOL)

BROD: Back at James Finnegan Playground in a low-income part of southwest Philly, mom Syeita Adams says her daughter will have much more to do this summer as the city welcomes back kids for summer programming.

ADAMS: We have a swim camp. We have a swim team. We have a summer camp. So I'm just happy that they able to swim. It's hot.

BROD: Philly's Parks and Rec Department now shifts its focus toward recruiting lifeguards for next year's pool season, when hopefully all the city's pools will be able to open.

For NPR News, I'm Robby Brod in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.