THE lack of lifeguards, and Level 2 certified swim teachers, has reached a crisis level in West Cork.
‘I have advertised in a number of publications but I haven’t had a single response,’ said Emma Bidwell the manager of the Wild Atlantic Pool and Leisure Centre in Baltimore. ‘I have also contacted most of the Cork trainers of swim teachers and – so far – nothing,’ she added.
‘This seems to be a problem across the board,’ she said, ‘and I believe it will be an issue when the beaches open up in a couple of months’ time because those with lifeguard stations will not be able to staff them.’ Both pool and beach lifeguards need to revalidate their qualifications every couple of years and because of Covid-19 they haven’t been able to do that, Emma added.
‘That also applies to people who want to progress from a Level 1 to a Level 2 as a swim teacher because those classes have also been affected by Covid. The certification classes are due to start in March and April so hopefully there will be a new cohort in the summer,’ said Emma. ‘The only problem with that is they may not have the necessary, practical experience.’
‘We are not facing closure,’ the manager of the Baltimore facility reasured the public, but added that staff are, at present, splitting the shifts between them.
‘Unfortunately, Jenny Gregory, who was the manager of the Wild Atlantic Pool and Leisure Centre, is about to move to a new job. She is, however, standing in temporarily because of the shortage. The problem is that Jenny was not only the manager, she was also a lifeguard, and a Level 2 certified swim teacher.
‘Another valued member of staff Carrie Holland is retiring after a quarter of a century, and she, too, is a lifeguard and Level Cert 2 certified swim teacher.
‘That leaves us with three other lifeguards – two of whom are part-time – to cover our opening hours, which are from 8am to 9pm on weekdays, and from 9pm until 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
‘We are managing the situation and we are operating safely. However, I believe the lack of lifeguards is going to have a significant impact on pools and wild swimming in the coming months.
‘This apparently is happening all over West Cork,’ she added, ‘but if the situation is highlighted there’s a hope that people will realise there is a need and an opportunity to train in these roles.’
Emma said she needs to keep the pool in Baltimore open for as many hours as possible because ‘it is a community pool and we have many of the schools coming to us for swimming lessons because the pool is Schull is closed and the hours in Dunmanway don’t suit everybody.’