Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center Facing Lifeguard Shortage

Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center is hiring lifeguards. Photo by John McHale/

Los Alamos Daily Post

Even before the pandemic hit in 2020, lifeguarding was having its own crisis to fill those high perches above pools. Now, Los Alamos County’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Division is strategizing ways to attract more applicants to its full-time and senior lifeguard positions.

Community Services Department Director Cory Styron said typically the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center will have four to six lifeguards on duty depending on the number of people in the pool. He said there are currently six openings. With the Leisure Lagoon opening for business next year, there will be four additional openings.

Not having all the lifeguard positions impacts the pool’s hours of operations, he said.

“If we stay at the current level, we can maintain where we are,” Styron said. “To fully open the Walkup to pre-COVID levels and to have the leisure pool, we need to fill these positions … to ensure everyone has a safe experience.”

To help fill those spots, Aquatic Center Manager Denise McCoy said hiring and retention bonuses are being considered.

There are many factors behind the shortage of lifeguards, McCoy said. She pointed out many high school or college age young people are more attracted to work at an outdoor pool and of course the pandemic had a significant impact, too.

McCoy said COVID-19 put a stop to all certifications and trainings for lifeguards and those who were already certified had their credentials expire.

Plus, a major recruitment for lifeguards is through the high school’s freshmen physical education program, she said. When the program stopped during this school year and the last school year, McCoy said the opportunity to introduce young people to lifeguarding also halted.

She explained there are three different positions in lifeguarding: casual, full-time and senior. Casual employees come in as needed, full-time employees work regular hours and senior lifeguards have some supervisory duties.

Being a lifeguard at the aquatic center is more than just sitting on a chair, looking for troublemakers.

McCoy said lifeguards help with opening and closing, assist with pool maintenance, teach swim classes and water aerobics.

With a multitude of duties, she said being a lifeguard can be a great stepping stone in a person’s career. McCoy pointed out that many lifeguards at the aquatic center have moved on to be teachers, firefighters, police officers and paramedics.

Additionally, being a lifeguard can be a great way to get a foot in the door for working for Los Alamos County.

Styron agreed.

“It is a great first job,” he said. “You learn good values, you learn discipline. You learn lifelong skills … that can not only help you in your job here but in your life moving forward and make a difference in someone’s life down the road.”

It pays well, too. Depending on the position, lifeguards can make anywhere between $17.82 an hour to $26.27 an hour.

The other perk is that the aquatic center is a great place to work, McCoy said.

“I believe it is a family atmosphere,” she said. “It’s like an extended family … you become part of a family with mentors who can guide you through difficult times.”

“It’s a great place to work,” McCoy added. “It’s a treasure…”

If interested in applying for a lifeguard position, call the aquatic center at 505.662.8170 or visit the County website.