Lifeguard shortage back at the front of people's minds amid search for 15-year-old in Coney Island waters

News 12 has been reporting about the ongoing lifeguard shortages in the city. That shortage was felt by beachgoers in Coney Island when two people were struggling in the water and witnesses jumped into the water to help before two lifeguards showed up.
This stretch of beach is littered with red flags which indicated that the beach was closed. An emergency responder first confirmed to reporter Katelynn Ulrich the meaning of the flags. That responder disclosed that they don’t believe people know what the flags mean because neither did they.
"We need somebody out there to keep an eye on the water,” said beachgoer Fernando. He says he was the one to pull the first person out of the water. That person is expected to live.
But the stretch of beach where the incident occurred had been unstaffed and closed to swimming all summer. The lifeguard chairs sit empty for miles. It’s unclear if the Department of Parks can fill them.
A spokesperson tells News 12 they have 800 lifeguards on duty this year, on par with 2022's lifeguard count. In May, the city’s parks commissioner said they needed approximately 1,400 lifeguards to open all beaches and pools.
A department spokesperson adds there are always unstaffed sections along the city’s 14 miles of beach, even when fully staffed.
"We need to increase salary [for lifeguards], even give benefits,” said Brooklyn Council member Ari Kagan.
According to the department's website, lifeguards work five to six days per week, making $21.26 per hour.
As for Thursday’s tragedy, a park spokesperson says enforcement patrol officers were patrolling the closed sections of the beach to try to keep people out of the water at the time. News 12 crews saw one patrol officer on that stretch of beach.
Reporter Katelynn Ulrich is eager to dig into what’s happening in our community and to help with your problems.