Summer's here and OC lifeguards are ready for the crowds amid nationwide staffing shortages

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Beach season in Orange County is officially underway with the start of summer.

For beachgoers in Newport Beach like Lauren Coe, that means it's time for some fun and relaxation.

"Well, I'm a fifth grade teacher so I'm really excited to have some free time this summer and be able to enjoy some time off," Coe said.

Two miles down the coast, the Newport Beach Fire Department is training junior lifeguards.

"For the next seven weeks, our ocean lifeguards are teaching beach safety, they're teaching teamwork, and some first aid and CPR techniques," said Assistant Chief of Lifeguard Operations Brian O'Rourke.

O'Rourke said this year they've hired around 140 ocean lifeguards who will work at about 38 stations up and down the coast.

"We didn't have a huge turnout," he said. "It was one of our lower turnouts for lifeguard tryouts this year and usually we have a surplus of people that we can tap into if needed.

"Right now we're looking really good and we have a healthy list of reserve guards who can backfill our towers when people are sick or taking the day off."

Over in Huntington Beach, marine safety division captain Sterling Foxcroft said lifeguards are also stationed at every tower.

Foxcroft said the city hired plenty of people to protect the beaches.

"We had about 70 people show up which tends to be the norm and we hired 35 people total, which gave us a little extra so we're fully staffed," he said. "All our towers will be open every day starting summer schedule."

However, there is a critical shortage of lifeguards nationwide.

The American Lifeguards Association said the shortfall affects about a third of the country's public swimming pools and beaches.

Many facilities and beaches will have to remain closed this summer, while others will offer shorter opening hours and limited services.

In addition, swimming pools will be struggling to stay open through the entire summer. The youths they rely on to staff these positions typically return to school in mid to late August.

California State Parks Superintendent of Lifeguards Kevin Pearsall said they did experience staffing shortages due to COVID and recruitment.

He said State Parks manages and protects 20 miles of Orange County beaches.

Pearsall said a couple of towers and vehicle patrols have been removed because of staffing issues but they should be able to get through this year.

He said next year they plan to regroup to enhance recruitment efforts.

Lifeguard officials said everyone who visits a beach is encouraged to swim near a lifeguard.

Beach visitors are asked to go up to lifeguards to ask where it's safe to swim.

Also, keep a lookout for the flags at lifeguard stations and treat them like you would a traffic light.

Green means water is safe, yellow means use caution if you're going in to swim and red means it's dangerous and you should stay away.

For current conditions in Huntington Beach, you can visit safebeachday.com.

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