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Rhode Island DEM changes lifeguard certification process to increase applicants

State beaches only have half the amount of lifeguards that they are typically allotted. (WJAR)
State beaches only have half the amount of lifeguards that they are typically allotted. (WJAR)
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The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management announced changes to the lifeguard certification process on Tuesday, with the goal of increasing the number of lifeguard applicants.

RIDEM said these changes will be phased in over the next few years in hopes of more candidates and refreshed training ahead of summertime activities at waterfronts.

"This is an attempt to make the process easier, while still maintaining high standards. It's going to streamline the process, and we think this is going to help us recruit and retain lifeguards throughout Rhode Island," said Tom Rosa, an administrative officer for RIDEM's Division of Parks and Recreation.

RIDEM told NBC 10 in May they typically hire about 170 lifeguards, but only had 80 on board by Memorial Day. They could not provide an updated number on Tuesday night.

First, guards with full certifications expiring at the end of September will get an exemption from a test this month, as well as an extension of their current state certification until June 2023.

Secondly, guards with a conditional certification still must attend the August certification, but will only be tested only on the swim portion -- not rescue skills at that time.

Thirdly, August testing doesn't roll into next year, meaning the 2023 certification kicks off in the spring, with both rescue skills and an endurance swim required. The endurance test, however, can be done at a pool.

"The state starts out with a pay rate of $14 (per hour) where private and other municipalities are able to pay more than that," Rosa said.

He explained training required prior to state testing can also be a financial factor.

"Taking a lifeguarding course through the Red Cross or the YMCA, and other ones similar to that can be a few hundred dollars," Rosa said. "So for a young kid to shell that money out not knowing when they will recoup it, can be a factor when they're deciding, 'Is this what I want to do?'"

Rosa said these changes won't impact the quality of lifeguarding you'll see.

NBC 10 asked Rosa about the potential for wage increases for lifeguards next summer.

"I would like to see is all lifeguards that are starting out get a minimum of $20 per hour," said Rosa. "We want to make sure these state beaches are competitive with these other locations."

Rosa said it is a topic of discussion every year among seasonal staff.

A full list of changes coming to lifeguarding certifications can be found on the Rhode Island State Parks website.

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