VERO BEACH — Some Vero Beach city staff want to shorten the hours of the city’s lifeguards.

At issue are the extended hours of 5-7 p.m. For the past two summers, the lifeguards have worked these extra hours between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

According to an April 28 memo from Recreation Director Jim O’Connell to City Manager Monte Falls, lifeguards are not needed during this time.

“Our experience and research have found that, for a number of reasons, the extended hours are a costly and inefficient use of city resources,” Mr. O’Connell wrote. “By not paying for additional hours, (the) city will save approx. $25,000 in personnel costs this fiscal year. We recommend that council not extend guarded beach hours for this summer.”

The extended hours were added in 2018 at the urging of the Vero Beach Lifeguard Association, a non-profit group that advocates for beach safety and the needs of lifeguards. At that time, the city council agreed to allocate an additional $25,000 to the Recreation Department budget to cover the additional hours until 7 p.m. every day from Memorial Day thru Labor Day.

“The additional coverage has resulted in little added benefit to the city or our beach patrons,” Mr. O’Connell wrote, adding that the extended hours actually caused unintended problems.

“Specifically, it has caused additional stress on our lifeguarding crew, resulting in lowered morale, increased sick callouts and 'burnout' from working the extended hours,” Mr. O’Connell wrote. This, in turn, has “caused a shortage of lifeguards, and of quality applicants for the position.”

“In addition, we have found that the need for lifeguards during these hours is actually lessened due to the fact that, during the rainy summer season, the beaches are very often closed during the early evening hours due to storms.”

Mr. O’Connell also raised a possible liability concern.

“Indian River County, and most of the surrounding municipalities, do not extend their coverage hours in summer. By extending our coverage hours during the summer, the city could be setting up a liability situation by not providing extended hours at other, busier times of the year, such as during Spring Break.”

“The experience of the past two summers has shown that the extending of coverage hours by beach lifeguards is both unnecessary and, in fact, harmful to the effectiveness, and the morale, of our crew,” Mr. O’Connell concluded. “Therefore, we ask the council to allow the Rec. Department to not extend beach coverage hours beyond the posted 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. normal coverage. Further, and in place of the extended hours, we ask that council give discretionary authority to the Recreation Department director to, as needed, extend coverage during holidays, Spring Break or other times as needed.”

Hometown News will report further on this proposal as it develops.

The city of Vero Beach is responsible for lifeguards at three beaches. Lifeguards are on duty when flags are flying.

Humiston Beach is located at 3000 Ocean Dr., 300 yards south of Beachland Blvd. Jaycee Beach is located at 4200 Ocean Dr. South Beach Park is located at 1700 Ocean Dr. at the east end of the causeway (17th Street Bridge), east of the SR A1A intersection.

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