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State park struggles to find lifeguards

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

While many employers are being forced to lay off workers, Huntington Beach State Park has a different problem.

It has money in its budget to fund six lifeguard positions, but can’t find qualified people to keep them all filled.

The park normally has five lifeguards for the summer and hired six at the beginning of this year’s season, but midway through June it was down to three.

“Usually the resignations come in toward the end of the summer as kids are getting ready to go back to college,” said Marion Edmonds, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

The park accepts applications throughout the summer to build up a pool in case positions open up, but because it’s so early in the summer there hasn’t been time to collect extra applications.

The park can get by with only three lifeguards without any affect on service, but if more lifeguards can’t be found, or if the park loses another lifeguard, it will have to scale back the hours lifeguards are on duty.

Huntington Beach is the only beach in the county with lifeguards.

To keep lifeguards on the beach, the park has to have at least three available to work a shift.

“You can’t run a beach with two lifeguards, because you basically have to have someone who can rescue the rescuer,” said Brenda Magers, the park manager. “What they do is very dangerous and we don’t want to lose one of them while they’re trying to save someone else.”

The lifeguards have to take breaks — one for lunch and regular breaks to get out of the sun for a while — so a third guard is needed to make sure two are left on the beach during those times.

“We’re alright as long as no one needs unscheduled time off,” Magers said. “If there’s an illness or something before we get at least one more lifeguard, people may see an impact on service. What we may end up having to do is shorten the hours, but hopefully it won’t come to that.”

Lifeguards are normally on duty at Huntington Beach from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Finding qualified lifeguards isn’t a new challenge for the park. In fact, it’s a problem parks around the nation are experiencing, Edmonds said.

“For whatever reason, lifeguarding isn’t as popular an activity for folks to do in the summer as it used to be,” he said.

And Huntington Beach State Park has the extra obstacle of having to compete with beaches, pools and water parks in Horry County, where it’s cheaper for young people, who would normally apply for lifeguarding jobs, to live.

“Finding people who want to be lifeguards and can afford to live locally enough to drive to work without a huge commute is always a problem for us,” Magers said.

Lifeguards are required to be certified by the American Red Cross and the park is working with the organization to find qualified candidates.

Signs are posted around the beach and park officials have also called past employees asking for recommendations of anyone who might be interested.

Park officials encourage anyone who is qualified and interested in becoming a lifeguard to contact Magers at 237-4440.

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