As Memorial Day approaches, it remains unclear whether there will be enough lifeguards to patrol Rockaway beaches at the height of the summer season.
The city Parks Department, which oversees lifeguards at city beaches, usually does not have enough lifeguards for Memorial Day because many lifeguards are high school students and school is not yet out by the holiday weekend.
“A lot of our lifeguards are in high school and they don’t get out of school until the end of June,” a Parks spokeswoman said. She said the agency usually has a full staff in place by the July 4 weekend.
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R−Ozone Park) said Rockaway Beach should have lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“It’s a very serious concern for me,” Ulrich said. “There simply aren’t enough lifeguards to keep the beaches open all the time.”
Ulrich said he is helping recruit lifeguards for Rockaway by reaching out to his alma mater, St. Francis College.
The councilman said he recruited seven or eight members of the college’s swim team who are in the process of training to become Rockaway lifeguards.
Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska said he believed it will be easier to recruit lifeguards this year because of the financial crisis.
City lifeguards are paid about $12 an hour and Gaska speculated that it would be hard for high school students to find jobs in a recession.
“For once, we’ll benefit from the bad economy,” he said.
Gaska said lifeguard training is conducted in Manhattan, making it difficult for Queens residents who are interested in becoming a lifeguard. He suggested that training be held in the newly opened pool at Flushing Meadows.
Under city policy, lifeguards cannot work part time past July 4, which Gaska said needs to be revisited.
Rockaway has two surf beaches, the only ones in the city, and is home to dangerous riptides.
“The best of the best [lifeguards] come here,” Gaska said, noting that he wishes to see a full staff of patrollers in the summer.
“We’re hoping that it’s different this year and we’ll see soon enough,” he said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz
©2009 Community News Group
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