GULF SHORES -- With summer weather having arrived well ahead of the summer months, city officials are scrambling to make sure the popular public beach at the end of Alabama 59, called Gulf Place, is patrolled by lifeguards.
A shortage of lifeguards early in the season hasn't made that easy, said Harold Samples, director of the Department of Gulf Shores Parks and Recreation. On Friday, for example, no one was available to work so the beach, crowded with spring-breakers, went unpatrolled.
On Sunday, despite lifeguards on duty and little surf, a 15-year-old drowned, highlighting the need for rescuers even on days when the Gulf of Mexico is calm. Last week, in an interview, Samples pointed out the importance of lifeguards at the public beach where, prior to Sunday, only one person had drowned in his 19 years with the city.
There are eight lifeguards on staff, though some are college students and can't work until their various campuses break for the summer, Gulf Shores Athletics Director Jeff Hopkins said. Even with all eight available, the city would be short staffed when Memorial Day arrives May 29 when guards work every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Samples said.
"There's just more and more people on the beach and we need as many guys as we can to watch as many people as we can," Samples said. "We'd love to get about six more."
Gulf Shores' lifeguard staffing has traditionally been cyclical, he said. A group of guards will be hired and work summers together until they graduate from college and move into their careers, leaving the city to find replacements, Samples said.
Work days are 10 hours long and if the city can hire enough guards before summer starts, each would work five days a week. The pay is $10.35 an hour, Samples said, but because the job is seasonal, overtime is not paid for hours worked over 40 a week.
Guards must be at least 18 and hold driver's and boating licenses. They also must have lifeguard, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first-aid certification, which the Red Cross offers, Samples said.
If the city has enough applicants who are otherwise qualified, it could offer its own lifeguard training. Also, at the beginning of each summer, representatives from the U.S. Lifesaving Association help teach local lifeguards and firefighters on open water rescue techniques in the Gulf.
Todd Knight, a paramedic who works part time as the city's beach patrol supervisor, said the main thing for potential applicants to possess is the ability to swim 500 yards.