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Billings swimming pools open; lifeguard shortage forces closure of wading pools

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Posted at 6:31 PM, Jun 14, 2024

A lifeguard shortage has forced the city of Billings to shut down wading pools at Pioneer and Hawthorne parks.

It's a problem affecting municipal pools nationwide, but Billings' main pools at South and Rose parks were able to open on time.

In its 110 years of existence, the South Park pool has seen hundreds of lifeguards.

The once classic summer job is no longer as popular and the city is down 18 lifeguards.

 Kids swimming is a familiar sight at this century old South Side staple.

“Swimming's fun because you get to hang out with your friends and do a lot of activities,” said Jaxon Eves as his friend, Xavion Harrington, agreed.

“Swimming is pretty fun,” said Samuel Herrera. “All you do is really just jump in.”

Kids enjoy the South Park pool with lifeguards closely watching to keep them safe.

“I really like spending time with kids,” said Aanya Craighill, a lifeguard at South Park. “It's just really great and it's really easy to talk to the parents of the kids too.”

Craighill rotates every 20 minutes through the five lifeguard stations.

She has taken the training to become a certified lifeguard through the American Red Cross.

“They teach you CPR and how to backboard, how to like strap in someone with a spine injury,” Craighill said. “And they teach you how to save someone from in the water or on land. How to use a sling.”

But people like Anya are harder to find these days.

According to the American Lifeguard Association, about a third of the 309,000 public swimming pools nationwide were closed or opened sporadically last year because of a lifeguard shortage.

Billings has 32 lifeguards, even thought the city would like at least eight to 18 more, for pools at South Park and Rose Park.

“We shoot for 40 every year,” said Kory Thomson, city of Billings recreation supervisor. “We'd love to hit that 50 mark. That would give us a lot of flexibility for the time that those kids are away or out of town.”

Thompson schedules up to 16 lifeguards at the two pools.

He attributes the shortage to many having commitments during the summer, along with the job market.

“There's lots of businesses looking for employees, and so we do all we can to remain competitive,” Thomson said. About 95 percent of Billings lifeguards are students, and Thompson believes they still see the value in the job.

“It shows responsibility and dependability that you can be a lifeguard,” Thomson said.

“It keeps me energized, keeps me moving,” Winton Hedoesit said about the chance to swim.

But so long as there's a lifeguard shortage, not all are happy with at least two wading pools now shut down for the foreseeable future.