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Summer lifeguards are in short supply

BOSTON -- Sun, sand and scenery apparently aren't enough anymore. As prime beach season approaches, swimming areas around the country are finding it unusually difficult to fill lifeguard positions.

"It's the worst I've seen in the last 12 years," said Shawn DeRosa, who coordinates beach programs for the state of Massachusetts.Massachusetts has filled just 65 percent of its 420 lifeguarding jobs, and some Long Island beaches were closed over the Memorial Day weekend because there weren't enough guards. Hampton Beach, N.H., hasn't received enough applicants this year to fill its 36 openings.

In Myrtle Beach, S.C., the lack of interest in 30 available jobs baffles folks who remember when hundreds annually applied.

"It's a sign of society," said Tony Blackburn, general manager at John's Beach Service, a contractor that supplies guards. "Kids get out of high school and they don't want to do anything that resembles work."

It used to be that lifeguarding didn't resemble real work to many people. But in recent years, the training has taken on a more serious tone, more appropriate to the safety mission.

Guards in most states are now required to be certified in CPR and other lifesaving techniques for jobs that pay about $7 to $10 an hour.

Other summer work offers the same pay without the life-and-death pressure, said Laura Slane, associate director of aquatics at the YMCA's national headquarters in Chicago.

And many job seekers are taking advantage of a tight labor market, with students turning to career-related internships that look better on a resume than a summer at the beach, DeRosa said.

Because of the staffing shortages, some beaches have focused their staffs on the most densely occupied areas, leaving stretches unguarded.

Still, in places like Los Angeles where the glamour -- and $18 an hour -- eclipse most other beaches, there is no shortage of applicants.

Capt. Mickey Gallagher of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Operations said the lifeguarding units are comparable to firefighting battalions, with rescue boats and four-wheel drive vehicles.