Lifeguard staffing shortages forced the Radium Hot Springs pools to change its hours several times over the past winter,but staff levels are at full strength for the summer, and Parks Canada has already taken steps to help improve staff levels next winter.
“We have had some challenges with staffing this year. We’re not the only hot pool dealing with this issue, but it has been an ongoing issue,” said Parks Canada hots springs enterprise unit chief operating officer Julian England. “It seems to be particularly acute this year, and I’m not sure why, but it’s something we are taking steps to manage.”
Those steps include partnering with the College of the Rockies to run a lifeguard training course, said England, adding that the first course ran this winter and another is running this summer. The first course attracted only a few would-be lifeguards, but England surmised that might have been at least partly because it was set up quickly and people did not have a lot of time to find out about it before it began.
“So hopefully in September (after the summer program) we’ll have more lifeguards,” he said. “In the meantime, we continue to actively recruit.”
England pointed out that lifeguard staff shortages are a problem not only for the Parks Canada-run Banff and Miette hot springs, but also for Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.
“It is a challenge and part of it is the nature of visitation patterns and the amount of work we are able to offer,” he said.“How do we create employment opportunities for people, get them to commit to jobs, when visitation numbers and the demand for lifeguards are quite variable?”
The hot pools in Radium employ 11 staff through the winter — a number that rises to 27 during the busy summer, he toldThe Echo. The pools also have several part-time on-call staff for times when full-time staff are sick, on vacation or when the pools are particularly busy. Such shortfalls are exactly what happened this past winter, when several staff were already away, and then a considerable portion of the remain staffing became too sick to work, leaving Parks Canada using as many of the on-call employees as it could.
“The staffing challenges we had meant that there were times when we had to close the cool pool on a handful of occasions,”said England.
He pointed out that the pools actually increased their hours last year, and that these new longer hours contributed to the issue.
“Traditionally, we have opened at the same time every day of the week, usually noon, but there are a lot of visitors to the valley who come for the weekend and want to stop at the hot springs before they leave on Sunday morning. So we expanded our hours and now we open at 10 a.m. on weekend days,” said England, adding that the “closures” of the cool pool often mean simply reverting back the old opening time, rather than an outright shutdown.
“In fact, in terms of total number of hours, the cool pool has actually been open more this year than last year,” he added.
Brisco resident David Lahoda had written a letter to The Echo earlier this spring, expressing his frustration at the cool pool closures, and pointing out that the hours listed on the Parks Canada Radium Hot Springs website sometimes do not match the actual opening hours.
“Why then does the limited hours of operation of the cool pool persist? At the very least, the Parks Canada website should accurately reflect these reduced hours. I also feel that patrons wanting to actually swim in the cool pool should not be treated differently than those simply wanting to use the hot pool,” he wrote.
England addressed these concerns, pointing out that “the greatest demand we get, by a wide margin, is for the hot pool.It’s an iconic attraction to the point that it’s even the village’s namesake, and we do have quite a lot of people coming to town specifically for the hot pool. So when we do have staff shortages, and we have to close one of the pools, it will be the cool pool that gets closed over the hot pool.”
He also shot down rumours that the cool pool closures were a result of some sort of budget cut.
“Absolutely not. If lifeguards had been available, we would have immediately brought them on and employed them. I have not been told to cut my budget. It was purely the availability of staff,” he said. “I certainly understand the importance of theRadium Hot Springs to the community and it was with great regret that we had to close on some occasions.”
To check the hours of the Radium hot pools, visit http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/voyage-travel/sources-springs/radium/heures-hours.aspx.