FARGO-The pool of local lifeguards seems to be drying up.
While spending sun-drenched days perched on a poolside chair may seem like the prototypical summer job for a teenager, a handful of pools in the region might not open this year because of a shortage of lifeguard applicants.
Even in Fargo-Moorhead, some park systems are having problems with recruiting people to protect their pools.
In Fargo, the city's Park District held its first job fair this spring to help fill its 600 part-time positions, after a winter in which 40 percent of its ice rink warming houses never opened due to staffing shortages.
For 27 of the 30 years Clay Whittlesey has worked at the Fargo Park District, hiring lifeguards was easy. Put out the call, teenagers apply-often the same kids who had worked their way up from locker room attendant or concession stand cashier.
"The last two or three years, we've had to work quite a bit harder to recruit people," said Whittlesey, recreation director for Fargo's park system.
Though it took extra effort, Whittlesey said Fargo has filled all of its lifeguard positions for the summer, other than just a few openings left at the northside's small pool in Madison Park.
Moorhead and West Fargo also have their lifeguard jobs filled for the summer. But in Moorhead, where the city pool requires a staff of 20 to 25 lifeguards, the concerns about a steady supply of lifeguards prompted the city to start its own training courses.
"We don't want to get to the point where we have the issue. If we take 12 in the class, we hope we have six who come and work for us," said Melissa Discher, recreation program supervisor in Moorhead.
While the F-M city pools have had to scrounge a bit to get lifeguard applicants, some smaller facilities are simply coming up empty. It takes at least a half dozen lifeguards to operate the man-made river water pool at Buffalo River State Park, about 15 miles east of Moorhead. Only one has applied.
"We are in desperate need for people to come forward and help us out," said Brian Nelson, the park's manager.
If nothing changes, the state park's swimming area won't open this year. Minnesota cities Lake Park and Pelican Rapids hadn't seen any lifeguard applicants as of earlier this week, and the pools there may not open, either.
Nelson said the Buffalo River is considering paying to train applicants who don't have the necessary certification. Guards at the state park are already paid pretty well, starting at $13 per hour.
For comparison's sake, Fargo pays lifeguards from $8 to $14 per hour-with the upper range reserved for the most senior guards. But lots of part-time jobs in Fargo-Moorhead pay in the $12 to $14 per hour range, Whittlesey said. "There's just a lot of jobs out there."
Though the Fargo Park District has been able to fill its positions, Whittlesey said the district's lifeguards have been trending younger. And it's a job that can have life-and-death implications.
"They've got to be on point," he said.
Brittany Laddusaw, the only lifeguard who applied at Buffalo River, said though watching over swimmers and being prepared to save them is important, it's also fun.
"You are responsible for a lot of lives and you have to take that seriously, but if you know what you are doing and are certified for this, it is a nice relaxing job," Laddusaw said.
That's what Whittlesey thought back in the early 1980s, when he worked as a lifeguard, getting a tan and growing his hair long. But he knows that's changed and expects lifeguard recruitment will continue to be an issue for local parks.
"It's really been something we've been watching," he said.
Forum News Service reporter Kevin Wallevand contributed to this report.