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Many Alberta pools running short-staffed, need lifeguards, swim instructors

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Pools are alive again with the elated sound of swimmers who were sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the challenges are not over for those running facilities and keeping everyone safe.

“We are running about one-third of the staff we usually have,” said Shandy Onishenko with Canmore’s Elevation Place. “We are running a much smaller team.

“It’s about to get smaller with our kids growing up and going to university. We are hiring right now.”

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Elevation Place is looking for lifeguards and waterslide attendants — dozens of them.

“With the pandemic and pools so heavily affected, there just hasn’t been much opportunity for training the last couple of years.

“We haven’t been able to provide as many courses as we typically do, so there just hasn’t been as much access to those certifications that have been required,” said Onishenko, adding many former lifeguards decided to switch jobs during the pandemic because of the ongoing uncertainty.

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It’s a similar story at pools in many other communities.

Parks Canada is looking to hire staff to run its hot pools in Banff and Jasper.

“Safety is of the utmost importance to Parks Canada. Lifeguards are critical to ensuring the health and safety of our staff and guests, and ensuring the smooth day-to-day operation of the Canadian Rockies Hot Springs according to Parks Canada’s operating guidelines and provincial aquatic facility regulations,” said Parks Canada communications officer Julie Champagne.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the tourism and recreation sectors.

“First aid, CPR and National Lifeguard courses were cancelled during the past 18 months, further limiting the pool of potential employees interested in entering or re-certifying to work at an aquatic facility.

“This is an industry-wide shortage and many aquatic facilities across Canada are operating at reduced capacities or are unable to open until they can staff appropriately.”

Parks Canada said the lifeguard shortage has impacted the parks in the Rockies. Banff Upper Hot Springs have re-opened but with reduced hours and sometimes, reduced capacity. Radium Hot Springs have re-opened but with reduced hours and capacity (from 550 guests to 200 guests).

“Miette Hot Springs, in Jasper National Park, remains closed for the 2021 season due to the national shortage of qualified lifeguards,” Champagne said. “Parks Canada anticipates re-opening the facility in May 2022.”

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The Banff Centre’s Sally Borden is not even open yet because it doesn’t have the staff.

“There’s about half the number of certifications or re-certifications that were being run last year compared to what there typically would be,” said Kelly Carter with the Lifesaving Society.

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“What we are seeing across Alberta right now is there is as real variance — where some are doing well, well-staffed, offering a lot of courses, and some are struggling,” he said.

Elevation Place is offering lifeguarding courses in October. The more staff it has, the more swimming lessons it can offer and the more people are trained to save lives.

“We can build swim safety in our community and those life safety skills and create a community that is proficient around water,” said Onishenko.

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