Mass. beaches facing significant lifeguard shortage

The Department of Conservation and Recreation has seen a significant decline

Horseneck Beach (Photo: WPRI / Brian Yocono)

WESTPORT, Mass. (WPRI) — Massachusetts state officials say they are facing a lifeguard shortage — and summer is just around the corner.

Eyewitness News has learned that there are just under 300 lifeguard positions across the state that haven’t been filled yet.

On Sunday, Horseneck Beach was busy — the sun was shining and families were enjoying a day of relaxation.

“We’ve been coming here for years, so I think you always have to watch your kids and the water and your surroundings,” said Melissa Hastings.

Hastings said she was not aware of the lacking number of lifeguards — but she said even if the tall chairs are empty, she’d still bring her family.

“I might get closer to the water, just to make sure that if the kids are in the water, I could get there quicker,” she said.

But even seasoned lifeguards say the water condition can change in a second. “We can go from today — is very flat. Yesterday we had waves that were three to four feet, strong rip currents — so you need to be ready for anything,” said lifeguard Sean Sweeney.

Sweeney has been watching over Horseneck Beach for a decade. He says the job is physically demanding, and mentally you need to know what to look for in the water.

“Torn ACLs, broken legs, we see everything down here. So people who work here are at the top of their game,” he explained. “We have two EMTs on staff, and a bunch of people with years of experience.”

One person told Eyewitness News that he wouldn’t bring his kids to the beach if there were no lifeguards, saying he relies on their trained eye for catching dangerous and changing conditions.

In the last two years, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has seen a significant decline in the number of lifeguards.

Copyright 2015 WPRI

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