Already experiencing a lifeguard shortage, Massachusetts is now seeing a rise in drownings, so state parks officials on Friday announced that its lifeguards will be getting a pay raise.
Any guard who commits to working through the whole season will receive a $500 bonus on top of that, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said at a news conference at Pleasure Bay Beach.
“The raise in pay is being offered not only to increase lifeguard numbers at state-managed locations, but to reflect the essential nature of this job and the work the guards to protect the public and make our waterfronts and pools safer for all to visit,” Theoharides said.
Department of Conservation and Recreation lifeguards' hourly rate will increase from $17 to $20 an hour; head lifeguards' rate will go from $18 to $21 an hour, officials said.
It’s already been a deadly season in Massachusetts' waters so far, with at least two dozen drownings in pools, lakes, ponds and the ocean. On Thursday, a 19-year-old drowned in Hyde Park's Turtle Pond.
The number of drownings is up significantly from previous years, Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason said.
“Any of these could have been prevented,” he said. “That is not to say we assign blame to the victims. Accidents happen and not everyone has the benefit of the water safely knowledge today’s speakers are sharing.”
Officials urged those planning to visit the state’s beaches and pools to stay especially attentive of children and avoid using drugs and alcohol around water.
“I say this not only as someone who oversees our park system but as a former lifeguard and swimming instructor, and a mother of three: it only takes a moment for a fun-filled day to turn tragic,” Theoharides said.
Swimmers are urged to use the buddy system, only swim in designated swimming areas, be aware of rip currents and always keep a close eye on children.
People are also reminded to think about spray decks and seek shade in parks as a safer way to cool off.
“Water and risk-taking don’t mix,” said Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Boston's chief of Environment, Energy & Open Spaces. “There are lots of ways to have fun, and maybe even break a few rules, that don’t have to be deadly.”
It was a quiet day on the beaches Friday, but overcast skies and cooler weather didn't stop some people from coming out.
“I love the beach,” said Maggie Lowe of Medford. “I come here all the time. I try not to swim out too far -- I feel like the lifeguards will whistle at you if you go too far.”
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