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Adams promises review after report reveals lifeguard shortage

Mayor Eric Adams promised on Tuesday to review regulations after press reports that bureaucratic snafus and union rules are exacerbating the Big Apple’s lifeguard shortage, which has already limited operations at city-run outdoor pools.

Hizzoner’s remarks came after The City, an investigative news non-profit, revealed officials at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services are rejecting waiver requests from paramedics and other first responders to work as lifeguards, despite having signed off on the paperwork in prior summers.

It also highlighted other shortcomings in the lifeguard division, including a testing regime that conceals key information from applicants and allegations that union bosses retaliate against critics.

“We’re looking at some of the rules,” Adams told reporters following an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn. “We’re trying to see if we can rethink some of these rules to see if we can address the shortage.”

Adams also continued to blame what he described as a “national lifeguard shortage.”

“I would love to go to the Jersey Shore and steal their lifeguards, but they have a shortage,” he argued. “We’re looking at how do we fill that shortage.”

Mayor Eric Adams has vowed to fix the city’s hiring process of lifeguards.
Paul Martinka

DCAS has argued it is simply now enforcing a three-decade old rule that it says bars city employees from doing double duty as a way to cut down on overtime.

The Parks Department has trained and hired just 529 of the 1500 lifeguards it needs to fully staff the city’s beaches and pools for the summer, officials said Tuesday.

Last week’s story in The City highlighting DCAS’s about-face is the latest in the long line of press reporters and watchdog reviews that have identified deep and long-standing problems in the Parks Department’s lifeguard program.

Lifeguards on opening day at Bushwick Pool, a newly renovated city run Cool Pool on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Adams added that he’s looking to “rethink” some of the rules the city has.
Stephen Yang

Those investigations have traced much of the dysfunction back to the powerful head of the lifeguard’s union, Peter Stein, who has been effectively allowed to operate the program as a personal fiefdom by successive City Hall administrations dating back to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

For years, Stein served as both the city’s chief lifeguard who oversaw the program and as the head of the union that represented the lifeguard supervisors, an arrangement that good government groups at the time described as a conflict of interest.

The Post revealed in 1989 that Stein forced subordinates to contribute to a mysterious political committee, but he emerged unscathed.

Lifeguards pack up as a storm comes in closing Jones Beach on the first day of Memorial Day weekend 2022.
Investigations have traced the dysfunction back to the head of the lifeguard’s union, Peter Stein.
Stephen Yang

Then-Public Advocate Mark Green issued a blistering report in 1994 that said the program was operated in a “ocean of mismanagement, secrecy, favoritism and even deception” that contributed to several drownings because lifeguards weren’t properly trained or supervised. Green’s report revealed that in one case a child drowned as lifeguards played football nearby.

Stein was eventually forced to give up his formal position running the Parks Department’s lifeguard program, but he remained the union boss and was succeeded by his right hand, Richard Sher.

Sources told New York Magazine that meant nothing changed and Stein remained in effective control of the lifeguards.

The scandals kept coming.

The Post revealed in the early 2000s that Stein was one of the best paid employees in the entire city workforce thanks to an arrangement that allowed him to simultaneously work as an instructor at public Brooklyn high school, in addition to his union responsibilities.

In 2009, The Post exposed that the frat culture in the lifeguard program still remained by publishing photos of cases of beers stashed outside the Orchard Beach lifeguard station amid a spate of drownings.

Officials at the time defended the boozing, claiming the beers were drunk after hours when the beaches were closed.

The lifeguard program exploded into view again in 2020 when NYMag published a story that revealed Stein ran the program like a patronage machine, relying on “playbook of patronage, power brokering, and intimidation.”

That story triggered a Department of Investigation review of the program, which stalled for months and the existence of which subsequently leaked to the publication.

The resulting DOI report was published in December 2021 and Sher and Stein refused to be interviewed by investigators.

Public pools open in NYC. Lifeguards, Highbridge Pool, opening day, 173rd and Amsterdam, NY, NY,
The Park Department has trained and hired just 529 of the 1500 lifeguards it needs.
J.C. Rice

“When DOI spoke with Stein to arrange an interview, which he ultimately declined to schedule, he offered a telling remark during the brief conversation: he wanted to know why coverage of the lifeguards does not focus on their protection of people from drowning at City beaches and pools,” the damning 18-page report concluded. “This report provides an answer — the structure history, and culture of the Lifeguard Division reveals systemic dysfunction in its management and accountability.”

Sher retired from the Parks Department that same year.

Stein remains the chief of Local 508. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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