As NYC battles heat and lifeguard shortages, Adams visits Bronx pool

As NYC battles heat and lifeguard shortages, Adams visits Bronx pool

At 60 years old, the man known simply as “Porkchop” Jackson has earned the right to call himself a regular at the public pool in the Reverend T. Wendell Foster Park in the Bronx.

A bike messenger, Jackson has been coming to the pool since he was a child. On Sunday, as he sunbathed on a lounge chair, he spoke approvingly of how the facility, which underwent a renovation in 2020, is managed.

“They keep a tight ship,” he said.

But asked what he likes most about the pool, he responded, β€œIt’s close to home.”

Those impressions, which were shared by several others, made the public pool a good choice for an afternoon visit by Mayor Eric Adams. On a day when the South Bronx was humming with crowds and traffic as the New York Yankees played a home game, the pool offered many families a quiet oasis to relax and beat the heat.

The visit by the mayor comes as New York, like other cities, struggles with a lifeguard shortage that early on forced sudden closures and lines at pools that could not open at full capacity. Last month, facing criticism that the city was not doing enough to recruit new lifeguards, the Adams administration worked with the lifeguard union to negotiate a temporary pay bump and an easier test requirement for those manning shallower mini pools.

After greeting swimmers, the mayor, who did not take questions from the press, praised the facility. Referring to the lifeguards, the mayor joked that he tried to distract one.

“But he was focused,” he said.

Since the start of the pool season, the city’s lifeguard staff has grown from less than 500 lifeguards to more than 860. While the numbers have shown an improvement, they were still short of the 1,400 lifeguards hired in pre-pandemic times.

“We’re not shooting for that at this point,” said Crystal Howard, a spokesperson for the Parks Department.

She was among the city officials, including city Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue and City Councilmember Althea Stevens, who joined the mayor for his Sunday visit.

After a rough opening, the city has managed to keep its 51 outdoor pools open. But the staffing crunch has meant that not all of them have been able to open at full capacity. Following initial complaints, park officials promised they would update their website on a daily basis to alert pool goers of any closures.

Donoghue said the city was doing its best to recruit more lifeguards, but emphasized that staffing shortages have affected a variety of sectors at a national level.

“There’s not enough people for restaurants, for airlines,” she said.

In the case of lifeguards, the pandemic kept many people out of pools for two years. The missed swimming time, along with a notoriously difficult test for prospective hires, have further hampered the city’s recruitment efforts.

The lifeguard shortage has dealt another blow to New Yorkers through the cancellation of the city’s free learn to swim program, which previously served 30,000 people a year. This summer marked the third year in a row that the swimming lessons have been scrapped and some have urged the mayor to find a way to restore the potentially life-saving program in a city where many residents cannot swim.

At the Bronx pool, several residents said they wished the city could bring back the lessons. Even some older adults confessed to knowing how to swim only β€œa little.” Others said they wanted their children to learn.

This year, they were essentially teaching themselves.

“It would be a great idea, especially since I have a newborn baby,” said Tiara Willie, a 28-year-old mother of four.

Although she had taught her older children to swim, she added, “They would probably be pros had we had that program.”

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