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Public Safety

Audit On Lifeguard Staffing Problems Sent To San Diego Council


The City Council's Audit Committee Wednesday unanimously passed a report that says 40 percent of San Diego's 100 full-time lifeguards will be eligible to retire in the next five years.

Many of them are employed as Lifeguard IIIs — those who conduct the most difficult rescues and handle challenging assignments like the Boating Safety Unit, according to lifeguard director Rick Wurts.

"These are incredibly experienced boat operators and lifeguards," Wurts said. "I wish I could keep them all."

He said the lifeguard service has been working on a succession plan for the Boating Safety Unit for about one year. The trouble is that promoting someone from a Lifeguard II position to Lifeguard III within five or six years is challenging because of the certifications that are required, he said.

Former Councilman Ed Harris, who leads the lifeguards union, said only three of the service's employees are close to making Lifeguard IIIs, and they're about two years away.

"When we talk about 40 percent of the lifeguard service leaving, what's not laid out is that 97 percent of those are boating operators," Harris said. "The 60 people who that are left — about 57 have no boating skills at all. They haven't been trained at all."

It's also difficult to hire Lifeguard IIIs from outside agencies, Wurts said, who said he agrees with three recommendations made in the audit report.

The recommendations include developing a workforce plan that includes measurable goals; creating a recruiting program that includes minorities and women as targets; and, on a non-personnel issue, reviewing the terms of concession contracts the department oversees with camps and kayak rentals.

Wurts said the lifeguard service has doubled the amount of certifications achieved by employees over the past year, and the budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes an additional Lifeguard III position that will be dedicated to training.

He said he has also reached out to college swimming and water polo teams in the area to get their athletes to consider a lifeguard career. Despite the specialized training necessary to operate a boat through flood waters, all lifeguards need the basic skill of being a strong swimmer, he said.

Regarding the concession contracts, the city of San Diego collects 10 percent of gross revenues. According to the audit, other cities take in 15 percent or more.

Wurts said the contracts will be reviewed in a few years, before they are put out to bid again.

The report from the City Auditor's Office will be forwarded to the City Council for final approval. The committee members asked for a follow up report in November.