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Bradford Beach — Just One Of The Milwaukee County Spaces Without Lifeguards This Summer

"No Lifeguard On Duty" sign on display at Milwaukee's Bradford Beach.
Susan Bence
"No Lifeguard On Duty" sign on display at Milwaukee's Bradford Beach.

As summer weather settles in and our post-pandemic world continues to open, more people will likely head to parks and beaches. But families in Milwaukee County will see fewer staff, especially lifeguards. This is according to Jim Tarantino, who is with the Milwaukee County Parks.

“We have hired about 20, 25 additional seasonal lifeguards since the last training session was provided towards the end of May, which brings our ranks closer to 75 or 80,” he says.

In contrast, 135 lifeguards watched over county parks waters two years ago.

Tarantino says that means only four facilities — two pools and two water parks — will be open this summer; and it means no lifeguards at the county’s popular Bradford Beach. Some wading pools and splash pads will be open this summer.

Milwaukee County is having trouble recruiting seasonal parks staff in general. Tarantino says one factor is the salary level. “We’re hearing from applicants, you know, I can make $15 an hour to work at Target or McDonald’s,” he explains. Compare that to the top-paid seasonal parks job of $11.83 an hour.

But Tarantino says filling lifeguard positions is a deeper problem, starting with last summer.

“The COVID year where we didn’t open anything and we weren’t able to retain people. In terms of public safety, you need experienced individuals to first guard a pool, then gain additional training and then guard the lakefront.” he says, “And last year we just lost all of that.”

Tarantino says Milwaukee County will need to rebuild its lifeguard pool.

"Swim ability is a major challenge in our ability to recruit. We can get applicants to apply and then show up for training and they can’t swim or they’re not strong swimmers. That’s absolutely a limitation," he says. "You know, we need to partner with other entities to make sure that comes back."

Several County Supervisors are floating resolutions they hope will help rebuild the corps, including increasing pay and offering bonuses commensurate with lifeguards’ training and responsibility.

But people who love dipping their toes into the water won’t see any ripple effects during the summer of 2021.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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