Garfield County community pools working to meet swimming season demand

A Rifle Metro Pool lifeguard sits and keeps watch high above the pool on a hot and busy summer day.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

On a hot summer day, the last thing anyone wants is to get to the pool to have it closed because there aren’t enough lifeguards.

Labor is currently tight for low skill jobs, but lifeguard jobs require intense training, certifications and quite a bit of responsibility for a job usually aimed at teenagers. 

“There is a common misconception that being a lifeguard is only a teenage job,” Glenwood Springs Community Center Aquatics Supervisor John Volk said.

Glenwood Springs Community Center staffs teenagers, young adults and a few older lifeguards, while Rifle mostly employs people between the ages of 15 to 18 years old. The John M. Fleet Pool in Carbondale is the only community pool in Garfield County not struggling for lifeguards, with a full roster of 14 lifeguards ranging from 15-68 years old.

“I’m fortunate I have more of an abundance than a lack,” said Margaret Donnelly, aquatics and wellness coordinator at the John M. Fleet Pool in Carbondale. 

The Rifle Metro Pool is larger and requires many more lifeguards. Rifle has staffed up to 50 employees this year, with hopes of eventually staffing the 70 required for the desired hours and capacity of the pool. Glenwood Springs Community Center currently has two full-time and 16 part-time aquatics employees actively working but ideally requires 30 to run the aquatics center at desired hours. 

After reducing hours the first couple of seasons since the pandemic began, all three pools extended hours this year. The Carbondale pool is closed temporarily to replace a failed pump.

A lifeguard sits and keeps watch high above the Rifle Metro Pool on a busy and hot summer day.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Glenwood Springs Park and Recreation Director Brian Smith said there seems to be a perception that the job is not taken as seriously, or with the same prestige, as other first responder jobs like medics.

Lifeguards are first responders and require CPR/AED and First Aid certifications with more intense fitness training. Although each pool in Garfield County pays for these certifications, there is a lot of work and responsibility required to become a lifeguard. 

“Many are scared of having such a responsibility, especially at 15 years old,” Rifle Metro Pool Aquatics Manager Jessica Wilson said. “They can make more money working in fast food without the responsibility.”

To compete with fast food jobs and other better-paying entry level jobs, Glenwood Spring plans to offer bonuses to help boost recruitment, offering $250 after 30 days and $750 to those who stay the full season. 

Carbondale’s main challenge this season is finding enough swim instructors for the hours they hope to fill. The John M. Fleet Pool does not push for cross training lifeguards and swimming instructors. Glenwood Springs also has a shortage of swim instructors but offers cross training, and many of the lifeguards at the pool in Rifle are both lifeguards and swimming instructors.

Being a lifeguard can also help make younger people better candidates for opportunities like babysitting or other first responder jobs later in life.

“I have parents that will contact me for babysitters knowing that (lifeguards) are certified in First Aid and CPR,” Wilson said. 

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.