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Here's what's driving the lifeguard shortage

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE READY")

JIMI JAMISON: (Singing) Afraid to step into the light...

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Remember the '90s show "Baywatch"? It depicted lifeguarding as a serious, heroic profession.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE READY")

JAMISON: (Singing) 'Cause I'm always ready. I won't let you out of my sight.

KELLY: Now, it's often caricatured as a part-time summer gig for kids who want to work on their tans. Now some experts say that is a major driver in today's national lifeguard shortage. NPR's Juliana Kim reports.

JULIANA KIM, BYLINE: Former chief lifeguard Wyatt Werneth says, over a decade ago, about 100 people applied to become a beach lifeguard in Brevard County, Fla. This year, only two showed up to the training session. Werneth, who's also a spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association, says it's a national problem.

WYATT WERNETH: We have over 309,000 public pools, and we're looking at an impact of over 50% of them being closed or having a reduction in hours.

KIM: He says lifeguarding's reputation has changed a lot since the hit TV show "Baywatch." It's no longer seen as a serious, heroic career, but rather a part-time summer gig. The pay has also declined over the years. Right now, cities are scrambling to recruit lifeguards and even adding signing bonuses. Meanwhile, Werneth says swimmers can take extra steps to stay safe.

WERNETH: Please assign a water watcher - someone that's going to pay attention to the little ones and not be distracted.

KIM: Another tip - adults and children who can't swim should always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in the water.

Juliana Kim, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE READY")

JAMISON: (Singing) It's going to be all right 'cause I'm always ready. I won't let you out of my sight. I'll be ready. I'll be ready. Never you fear. No, don't you fear. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.
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