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Lifeguard Shortage Bedevils RCC

A lack of senior lifeguards has led to shortened hours at the Reston Community Center's indoor pool.

A dwindling number of senior lifeguards at the Reston Community Center's indoor swimming pool at Hunters Woods has RCC officials so concerned, they have curtailed the pool's operating hours.

"This is hitting us harder than ever before," said Dennis Kern, RCC's executive director.

The indoor pool has had trouble over the past four months with recruiting and maintaining "level three" lifeguards, who are the oldest and most experienced guards.

In addition to protecting swimmers, the senior lifeguards are also responsible for testing water quality and opening and closing the facility.

Most of RCC's "level three" lifeguards quit working at the end of August so they could attend college. Three senior lifeguards remained, but two are leaving this week for better-paying jobs.

RCC's senior lifeguards are paid between $11 and $14 an hour, based on experience.

The shortage has caused early closings each Friday since the day after Thanksgiving. Until further notice, the swimming pool — which is the only one of Reston's 16 pools open all year — will close seven hours early each Friday at 1 p.m.

"If we can just recruit a couple new guards, we'll be back in business," Kern said.

THE DEARTH of senior lifeguards is primarily because Reston college students are away at school and high-school students are in class during the day.

"It's an availability issue," said Terry Smith, vice chairman of RCC's Board of Governors. "It's not a money issue."

Smith, who frequently swims at the RCC pool, has been helping to fill in as a lifeguard when no one else is available.

"We really need people for that 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. time slot," he said. "It's an ideal job. My son used to be a lifeguard here and he loved it."

Also, lifeguards are often attracted to the job because it gives young people an opportunity to be outside in the sunshine all day. RCC's lifeguards catch few rays while on duty at the indoor facility.

Lifeguard staffing has led to shortened hours at the RCC swimming pool before, but never on such a regular basis.

RCC officials said they are optimistic they can start operating the pool on regular hours again in the near future because some of the younger and less experienced lifeguards will eventually be promoted.

"Eventually the lump in the snake will move along," Kern said.

THE LIFEGUARD shortage is evident at other indoor swimming pools throughout Northern Virginia, said Pam Elcessor, RCC's assistant aquatics director.

"It's a regional problem," she said. "We usually look for college kids who want to pick up some extra pocket money. But it seems like the general trend is that college kids aren't working as much as they used to."

The young Reston residents — including recent college graduates — who might have once considered life guarding at RCC, are increasingly finding better-paying employment, said Liz Milner, RCC's spokeswoman.

"These kids can make so much more money working with computers these days than they can as a lifeguard."

RCC is seeking applicants for lifeguard positions via Internet job postings, Elcesser said. Anyone interested is urged to stop by the front desk at RCC-Hunters Woods for an application.