As weather cools down, reflecting on a hot summer of lifeguard shortages and other industry concerns

By: Cait Waxler 

You may not be thinking about swimming now that winter is approaching, but the American Red Cross is. On a hot summer day in Philadelphia, a public pool is one of the few places you’d want to be to cool off; but not everyone has the skills they need to master the water. Adding to that challenge, municipal pools across the area struggled with an increase in the number of lifeguards they were required to have on duty, which lead to shortages. So a few industry movers and shakers put their heads together to start a dialogue about it.  

Some of the panelists chat leading up to the start of the Aquatics Symposium in September

In September, in an effort to build collaborative awareness about drowning rates and the current lifeguard shortage, experts met at the Red Cross Chapter in Philadelphia. This event was co-chaired by Cait Waxler, Aquatics Executive with the American Red Cross for Philadelphia and New Jersey, and Dr. Angela Beale-Tawfeeq, Red Cross Scientific Advisory Member, Board Member of Diversity in Aquatics and Department Chair at Rowan University.  

Cait Waxler of the American Red Cross addresses the room at the September Aquatics Symposium

A panelist of experts in aquatics and community development included: Dr. Angela Beale-Tawfeeq; Amy Pitman, educator and head swim team coach at Girls High; Bianca del Rio Director of the Netter Center’s University-Assisted Community Schools at the University of Pennsylvania and former PDR swimmer; Brannon Johnson head coach and owner of BLJ Community Rowing; Megan Ferraro, Executive Director of the ZAC Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to water safety and drowning prevention education, awareness and prevention; Noah White, kinesiology adjunct professor for aquatics at Temple University; and Robert E. Miller, attorney by day and water safety advocate/lifeguard by night.  

The panelist engaged with around 20 community members with ties to the aquatics field, including lifeguards, swim instructors, administrator, plus representatives coming from Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, local charter schools, and local non-profits such as TeamUp Philly.  It didn’t take long for the conversation to flow. Dialogue revolved around everything from developing youth safety skills in and around the water, potential job opportunities/leadership skills, International Water Safety Day on May 15th, partnerships, water awareness (how water isn’t even needed to start the conversation), Diversity in Aquatics (how they are as an organization and how to get involved) and more! 

With drowning being the leading cause of death for children in the United States and African-American children ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of white children in the same age range, conversation around this complex topic have just begun. The group plans to meet again in a few months (in conjunction with an aquatics job fair) to continue the conversation and have more partners involved. For more information on the event or to get involved, contact Cait Waxler at cait.waxler@redcross.org or 215-260-7657. 

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