Dear PoPville – New Rule at Public Pools?


“Dear PoPville,

Not sure if any information is out there, but encountered a “new rule” while swimming laps at Francis pool.

While swimming laps today I was told, everyone out of pool for 15 minutes, every hour, new rule. Kids, I can see needing a break, but adults swimming laps. This is like going to the gym and being told to get off a machine or stop using the equipment. Lifeguards were nice,but just sat around for 15 min. Frustrating, burned up a half of lunch swim time.
Emailed DC Parks and Rec, no response.

Any idea where to get more information with this new rule?”

UPDATE: DPR responds:

“Regarding the 15 minute safety break. In a municipal pool setting, 15 minute safety breaks are very standard. They are in place for several reasons. The CDC Healthy Swimming tips recommends this practice in pools that serve a high number of children. During the break, parents take that opportunity to use the restroom which has drastically reduced the amount of water contamination closures. Secondly, our pools often hit capacity and traditionally we see large numbers of guests leave during the break and then we can accommodate more of the public. Third, some of our outdoor pools have small staffs and there needs to be an opportunity for them to check the restrooms, water chemistry, make adjustments, and simply refresh themselves to remain optimal vigilance.

As a lap swimmer myself, I know it would be difficult to get a good workout with these breaks taking place. To remedy that, we have published designated lap swimming times and the safety breaks do not occur. Also our network of indoor pools are available for lap swimming without interruption. The outdoor pools by design are for community use by all. The indoor pools have public hours but also have more availability for other usage such as learn to swim class, self directed fitness and water exercise.

The 15 minute rule has been the policy here at DPR for some time. We are just ensuring it is consistently enforced which I am learning has not always been the case. As I begin to review and revise procedures in the aquatics division, I welcome feedback from the public.”

93 Comment

  • I thought this was a pretty common practice, particularly at large pools — as a safety measure to allow the lifeguards to see that the pool is truly empty. (i.e. no one’s drowned).

    • ah

      What?!? First of all, if it’s only every 45 minutes then anyone at the bottom of the pool is dead, unless it happened in the last 2-3 minutes. Second, it can’t possibly take 15 minutes to confirm there’s no one at the bottom of the pool when it’s empty.

      • . The break serves multiple purposes — giving the lifeguards a break from the level of attention it takes to look for signs of a swimmer in distress in a lively, crowded pool; checking the water conditions; giving kids/swimmers a break. And being absolutely sure that no one is in the pool. If a pool is fully staffed, meaning that there are multiple lifeguards watching the same crowded space, it’s easier to do this less frequently and/or without having to close the pool.

        • i don’t think so. i’ve worked at a large aquatic center with 10 pools and multiple summer camps going on concurrently, so there were a lot of kids and a lot of activity. They never needed to “clear the pool” for 25% of every single hour to give lifeguards breaks. that’s what a shift is for. 20 on, 20 off, with someone else simply taking their place. if the pools here are so understaffed that they do not have enough lifeguards for even 1 full hour of swim time, then they don’t have enough to keep the pool safe in the first place.

          • Please re-read the last sentence in the post that you’re replying to. A “fully staffed….large aquatic center” would likely not need to do this. And I’ll re-read the last sentence in your post and wonder if indeed, our less than fully staffed pools are also less than safe.

  • Isn’t francis mostly designated for kids?
    The lifeguard is probably short staffed and needed a break. This is not a new rule. You could complain to dcdpr twitter feed.

    • Let me clarify. This is not a rule. If you swim laps, your going to be in there for longer than an hour especially training for a race.

      • I am a 6 time all-american NCAA swimmer. Quite common to have practices in the pool of 1 hour or less…you have no clue what you are talking about.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      The OP was explictly told by the lifeguard that it was a new rule. As of others have been told at other pools too.

      • Reach out to @DCDPR on twitter for clarification.

        I think most people are being affected by going to the smaller pool that would have problems with staff calloffs and lack of lifeguards. Therefore, they would need a mandatory break.

        If you really want to swim lap’s try Wilson or Hains Point.

    • DCDPR is pretty responsive on Twitter. Just ask them what’s up with this. I tweeted them a bunch of times when there were lifeguards on their cell phone (in the chair, on duty) and they replied quickly. I also know that they took disciplinary action, so point being – they are listening!

  • This used to be a rule at an apartment building in which I lived. It was the lifeguard’s break time. It was ridiculous. The pool was 3 ft deep, a maybe 12 ft square, and there wasn’t a child in sight.

  • I was told a similar thing at the pool in Eckington about two weeks ago. The life guard said they are having a serious life guard shortage. He claimed that there aren’t enough certified people to fill the available positions. It seemed like the guards were using the time to take a break and there weren’t adequate people to cover for them if one of them left the pool area. No idea why this needs to happen every hour though. Presumably they can go more than 45mins without needing a 15min break. Also we were told the deep end was permanently closed due to the life guard shortage.

    • If there is a shortage of lifeguards that would explain the breaks. Lifeguards need “concentration breaks” or rotations out of different duties in order to prevent them from getting “perceptual blindness” where the brain can disregard small changes in the environment on a largely unchanging landscape. So they stare at bunch of people swimming for an hour, and miss the kid thrashing about and drowning, because it doesn’t register properly because they have gotten used to seeing what has been there for the past hour. Usually the way to deal with that is to rotate through responsibilities, like checking the ph levels, checking people in, actual sitting in the chair, etc. But if you don’t have enough people to do proper rotations a 15 minute break every hour might be necessary.

      But that’s what to do if you only have 1 or 2 guards, so it’s on DPR for not hiring enough guards. Not surprising, the pools are closed 25% of the time anyway for some sort of mechanical issue as it is.

      • This!

        I’m curious about the requirements to be a lifeguard — age, certification, etc. Now that so many of the High Schools have swimming pools, are there P.E. courses that would lead to certification? Is the salary one that would be attractive to students/teachers who would want a summer job? I think that being a lifeguard at an understaffed pool would be horrible — and I’m wondering if the problem is lack of funded positions or lack of available lifeguards.

        • The head life guard on duty told it it was a lack of available lifeguards. He said it has something to do with the contractor that DPR has hired to check backgrounds/certifications. I think this is pretty outrageous. The pools are already open very limited hours as it is. Only being able to use them 45mins of every hour is such a pain. Surely DPR can find a few additional life guards.

        • I was a lifeguard in high school. You had to take a course and pass a test to get certified. I’ve never heard of high schools having programs, as they’re done by the American Red Cross.

          Usually the salary isn’t great: I got $9/hr, but that was in 1998.

          • Thanks for your answer! Part of my question is wondering how many of the people likely to seek summer employment would know how to swim well enough to qualify for certification — and wondering if most DC students have access to swimming instruction in HS and/or recreational programs that would allow them to meet these requirements.

          • I can’t really speak for how much access DC student have to swimming instruction, but I can say that to get certified, you have to be a really strong swimmer. You can’t just start the class being only capable of swimming and pass. Not sure how good DC kids are at swimming (my guess is not great).

          • 2:57, there are rec programs that they have access to in order to get the appropriate level needed to meet the swimming prerequisites. In high school, I don’t think so. The public pools that are attached to the high schools (Wilson, Takoma, etc.) are run by DPR. DCPS has to rent the lanes in order to use them even though they own the buildings.

            In my day, back in 1996, you had to be able to swim 500 yards in under I think 20 minutes continuously without stopping. It appears that they’ve changed that (they being the Red Cross) to a 300 yard continuous swim and some other things. But, for the average novice swimmer, 300 yards continuous can be a difficult thing to do without stopping.

          • My son was a DC public school student and got certified so he could work over the summer. We signed him up for the certification class through the DPR website. The classes started in the early spring. I think it was like one or two eight-hour sessions plus the test. Or something. The last summer he worked—2012? — he made about $11 per hour. Not bad for a high school kid.

      • As a long-time pool lifeguard – we always did 15 min. breaks for kids -but it was called “adult swim” so lap swimmers could keep going. Clearing the entire pool is simply understaffing.

        • Yep. That’s exactly how and why we did it as well. We weren’t short staffed. We would each get individual breaks (I forget how frequently). But all kids had to get out of the pool for 15 minutes, once every hour. Those over age 18 were allowed to stay in.

        • This is how my neighborhood pool was in the 80’s, “adult swim.” Last weekend at Harry Thomas Rec pool in Eckington, they definitely only had 2 lifeguards and one desk attendant on duty as far as I could tell when we got there around 4:30. They used the 15 minute break to check the chemical levels in the pool, so I could understand the full break as opposed to adult swim. It’s annoying, but not as annoying as pools not opening until noon. I’ll take 15 minute breaks all day if you can get the dang pools open at 10am, at least on weekends.

      • They pay $10-13 an hour and the training costs about $100 for a DC resident. It would be a fabulous summer job for a kid who knows how to swim (and it would be great if more DCPS kids learned to swim, especially since we have such lovely pools at Wilson, Dunbar, etc.)

      • The thing is, people who are drowning generally don’t thrash about. Hopefully lifeguards know this, but the general public does not.

        • The thing is, active drowning isn’t the only reason for a lifeguard to enter a pool to make a save. All types of injuries and medical emergencies happen in pools. Hell I had to save a kid once who just randomly fell in… It wasn’t a nasty fall or anything but he fell in and didn’t know how to swim and started thrashing about… He wasn’t “drowning”… He also could have put his feet down and been fine.

    • Yeah I don’t understand why they need a break every hour. Life guarding doesn’t seem like a particularly pleasant job, but I don’t know why they can only work 45 minutes at a time…

  • I normally swim at the Rosedale outdoor pool and that has been the case this summer and last. One perk is I don’t have to wear a watch because I always know when another hour has passed.

    • How is swimming laps at Rosedale on the weekends? Should you arrive right at noon? Do kids avoid the lap lanes?

      • Maybe instead of “swin at” I should have said “lay around in a chair and cool off by getting in the water”. However, last weekend my husband and some other individuals were doing laps. From 12-3 there was never more than one person per lane and the lifeguard kept people from hanging out in the lanes while others were trying to swim. I would say the only reason to arrive at noon would be to grab a chair if you want it.

  • This was being enforced at Volta pool this weekend.

    • When I went to Volta last summer (only once, because of this policy), they had already started enforcing this.

  • I worked at a public pool for 4 summers, it’s pretty standard to have safety breaks every few hours. Every hour sounds unusually frequent, but one summer I remember we instituted shorter breaks every hour (ostensibly to stop kids from pooping in the pool, no joke, though it was definitely not effective). If there are staffing issues like other people are mentioning then this wouldn’t surprise me.

  • All-outs were commonplace when I was lifeguarding 20 some years ago. There were only two lifeguards on duty at any time and while we didn’t do them hourly, we certainly did them several times a day as a way to get a break.

  • So these are basically DPR Aquatics rolling blackouts.

  • experienced this at upshur during regular hours.

    ave yet to experience at pools that have designated lap times. Any clue if banneker or haynes point have the same rule?

  • Can someone list off the best pools for swimming laps? This post mentions swimming over lunch, what a great idea! What pools do lunch-time lap swim?

  • They always did this at the pool I went to growing up and they did it a few weeks ago at Volta, so I thought it was pretty standard. I wish I had a job where I could take a 15 minute break every hour though 😉

  • Yeah it is stupid. They do this at the Eckington pool but not at East Potomac Park Pool, I complained to our council member about it. There is no way you can have a shortage of lifeguards unless you simply do not hire them. Its a 25 hour certification class at the Red Cross. We have 8 – 9 % unemployment rate in DC and a 300 million SURPLUS of funds. Crap if you can’t let my white butt swim for two months out of the year, think about it, the pool is open for TWO MONTHS really? Even if only the weekends you have a full time lifeguard staff so you don’t have to rotate. I mean a third grader could figure this one out.

    If I find out their solution to my complaint was not to FIX the pools that have the 15 minute rule, but rather make them all that way then I plan to vote somebody out next go round of elections. I am all fine with helping those who need help with my tax dollars but when it comes down to having a 300 million surplus either you are gonna make sure all our services are top notch in DC or give me some money back.

    • Assuming the funds are available:
      1) How many people want summer jobs?
      2) How many of those people meet the criteria for being competent swimmers (probably a much smaller number than you realize), with certification?
      3) And of those people, how many can find other jobs that pay better without the stress of being responsible for other people’s lives?

      For all your guff, I’d bet that you’ve never been a lifeguard or even thought much about the issue — beyond your own comfort and convenience. I hope you use your valuable voting rights in an educated way.

      • There is a program in place to staff summer jobs if they can’t enough Americans called the J1 Visa. Foreign students can get a visa to work for 3 months and travel for an additional month afterwards. It’s especially popular with foreign students from Ireland, Eastern Europe, Thailand and Colombia. Any place in of lifeguards could easily fill their available positions this way. Most of these students aren’t coming to being a bunch of money back home. They’re doing it for the experience.

      • Lord the thought process of some people………….

        Assuming the funds are available……… educate yourself, DC has had a massive tax surplus for the past two years. Don’t over charge me then try to give me lesser services.

        1) I would imagine many of the tens of thousands of unemployed in our area. Lets see….. I am on welfare, living in section 8 housing, and trying to enrich my life what shall I do? Sit around on my duff all hot summer or get a job that gives me experience, exposure and MONEY. Duh. Put an ad on Craigslist today looking for lifeguard candidates and see how many replies you get.

        2) How many of those meet the criteria? ITS SWIMMING………… not in an ocean, in a POOL where 1/2 of the entire thing you can WALK in, don’t have to swim. The pools in DC are FREE you can take your butt down there and figure out how to swim perfectly in a week’s time. If you can’t figure it out on your own just yell out I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO SWIM and see if somebody don’t teach you. After that, go take the durn class. Your granny will loan you the money till you can pay it back.

        3) How many can find other jobs? According to the massive unemployment in DC not too many of them. What stress of saving lives? You sit in a chair, blow a whistle and tell people to get out of the deep end. If you think being a pool lifeguard is stressful, don’t choke on your silver spoon.

        Sounds more like you need a bit of common sense education yourself there buddy.

        Personal responsibility is the key to everything. anybody who is unemployed who says they don’t want to take a lifeguard job because they can’t swim, too stressful, is beneath them, just don’t want to work period.

        • Right, because what we need is lifeguards who have only just learned to swim and who took the job grudgingly.
          Maybe MOST of the time, lifeguards aren’t saving lives… but they need to be ready at a moment’s notice to do so, and to be physically capable of doing it. I suspect you’d be raising hell if your kid/friend drowned at a D.C. pool because of an incompetent lifeguard.

  • DC Pools are a disaster in management. Upshur is also having the lifegaurd shortages which results in rotating opening and closing of the baby pool and larger pool. Totally unacceptable. Last summer there was a push to try and get the pools to open MUCH earlier on the weekends. Who the eff opens a pool at noon on Saturday. Pools should open by 9am for general admission and 8am for lap swimmers. Every other jurisdiction seems to get this. I don’t know why there isnt more anger from people about how poorly the pools are run. If we have such an issue with emplyment, shouldnt DC be trying to recruit and train for lifeguards throughout the year? Why are swim lessons imposible to sign up for. Where are the swim teams? Yes I was raised in the burbs so maybe I got spoiled with the swim culture but DC is full of so many families now and DPR needs to keep up.

    • First-world problems. I’m not from around here. It still blows my mind that there is more than one really excellent pool open to the general public within a 15-minute bike ride from my house. Where I’m from, I would have had to drive for about two hours to find one that was open to the general public. If you find the policies of your local public pool “unacceptable,” there are plenty of nice private pools that you can use, for a fee of course. I find it kind of funny and perplexing that everybody expects so much from a public pool and gets all riled up when they don’t get what they want, whereas many dismiss the possibility of getting a workout at a DC rec center weight room without any serious thought and just heads on over to Washington Sports Club and pays big bucks to use their weights instead. Why not demand more from your public weight room, too?

      • Very true. We are lucky to have so many fairly nice pools. My friend in Arlington said there are only seven pools in the whole county.

        • Virginia is really big on private swim “clubs.” It goes back to the days of racial segregation.

      • well we live in the First world so I would expect first world problems. Believe me I would join a private swim club but there are maybe two in all of DC and they restricted by neighborhood. I don’t think its wrong to expect DC to improve on recreation option. The population is growing, swimming appeals to all ages , classes and races in the City. And clearly DPR isn’t doing a very good job of managing their assets or employing teenagers in the summer.

    • I always tell people that one of the things DC does really well is public pools. The quality of the facilities is a bit uneven but you can’t beat the number of options, all of which are completely free if you are a DC resident.
      I’ve been seeing the advertisements for lifeguards posted at the Wilson pool for awhile. I assumed that the positions would be easy to fill, particularly for a summer. But clearly they are not.
      High unemployment doesn’t mean that every job will be easy to fill. There are tech companies who argue that they have to import workers from foreign countries because they can’t find people in this country who can do the jobs.

  • OP here, there were at least six lifeguards staffing the pool, all really nice, said it was a new rule. Just strange asking lap swimmers, able swimmers, no kids, no poop/pee 🙂 , to stop swimming and get out for 15 minutes, half of my 30 min lunch swim. Have not experienced ” 15 min. breaks” at Haines Point pool.

  • Not to defend the goofing/texting/inattentive life guards but lifeguards need a break to rest, pee, your eyes get tired and your attention can waiver after staring at a pool for 45 minutes.
    Are they doing the same thing at the Wilson Pool?

    • I swim at Wilson 2-3 times a week and have never seen it happen there. But there are a ton of lifeguards and they rotate from pool to pool and away from the pools as well, so maybe there isn’t the same need for it.

      • Wilson is a year round aquatic center — which is likely easier to staff with people in permanent positions than one of the outdoor pools, which I’m guessing would be a temporary summer job.

  • Well, one perk of the “everyone out” policy is that it does encourage some turnover. Sometimes, once people have gotten out, gotten dry, and realized they have to sit out in the sun for twenty minutes (I’ve never been there where it was only 15) they go on and go home. Especially for the more popular pools like Francis, this can be very helpful.
    That being said, it’s still stupid that DPR can’t hire enough people to make this not a problem!

  • The 15 break is not new to Rosedale Pool. It has happened, on occasion, at Deanwood. It has been standard practice at Rosedale since the pool re-opened a few years ago.

    For the question about lap swimming….Rosedale looks like the only outdoor pool (outside of EPP) with official adult swim laps – from 8-10 am. I have gone 3 times and all 3 times it has started late (8:10-8:15). It is a short lane, but it is sort of like outside swimming for tri training. All 3 times, there were other ppl swimming – all the lanes were occupied.

    On weekends at Rosedale (at least on Sundays when I have gone), the lifeguards have done a solid job of keeping at least one of the lanes “open” for swimming, but it is really difficult to maintain. I would not try to swim for fitness on the weekends there. The adult swim during the week, yes; but not on weekends.

    I’ve emailed DCDPR about the late start times for adult swim, but am still waiting for a reply back on that….

    • Anacostia pool has lap swim from 6-9. I really wish Rosedale would switch to those hours. Who can start swimming after 8 am?

      • Ohhhh I didn’t realize that about Anacostia pool – that is good to know! Very easy to bike there, swim, and bike home!

  • We asked the head of the Francis Pool about this new policy, and I guess at another pool in northern NW had a tragedy where a woman in the locker room was unconscious (or died?) and had been there for awhile; because the pools are so lightly staffed, all the lifeguards were either checking ids or working the pool. Because of what happened there, they input this policy so that with limited staffing resources, they can make sure someone is doing a sweep of the lockerrooms, etc.

    • That is so not true.

      • While I can’t help but suspect that you are correct, replies that accuse other replies of being false yet don’t bother to substantiate their own assertion (that the other one is false) aren’t particularly helpful. They give the forum the tone of a childish playground argument of “Is too!” “Is not!” “Is TOO!” “IS NOT!” variety.

  • I have been swimming at Francis for many years. This is definitely a new rule there. Most pools give lifeguards a 15 minute break every hour but it is not necessary to close the pool to do so unless there is a shortage of lifeguards. It was a shame to have a huge pool be completely empty for 15 minutes while we were schvitzing on the side!

  • Upshur pool is so crowded that the water actually gets a little cloudy. The all-out period gives the filter some time to catch up. It’s noticeably clearer at the end of the break.

  • In previous years, this has been pretty common at Francis Pool, but only enforced sometimes.

  • austindc

    I think this is common at understaffed pools. I worked as a lifeguard alone at a small condo pool in Boston in high school over the summer. It is exhausting to be that alert. I had to take 10 minutes every hour. I would go into the shed and close my eyes to rest them, but we could just put out a sign that said “no lifeguard on duty, swim at your own risk.” Even though it was a small, shallow pool, I made two saves that summer–both children. You really need to be ready to go at every second.

  • I’ve always thought that was the rule, at all public pools… and private pools in condo complexes for that matter too. I was at Francis yesterday too, with my daughter, and was more surprised that I was told I couldn’t take pictures of my daughter in the pool. I looked around for a sign/rule on that but there was none… And didn’t want to challenge the young lifeguard as he was already getting flak for the 15 minute break thing (and it’s really not a big deal), but, any ideas why no photos?

  • Someone needs to tell the staff at Francis that the 15 minute break doesn’t apply to the lap lanes, because it was applied to lap lanes on Sunday July 12.

  • “To remedy that, we have published designated lap swimming times and the safety breaks do not occur.”
    I cannot find the designated swim times mentioned at the link provided. (I am specifically looking for Francis pool). Anyone know how to view this info?

  • This “New Rule” is simply the enforcement of an arbitrary policy based on someone complaining about it at another DC pool.
    It’s a crap policy and should be abolished as it does not serve any legitimate purpose, let alone the taxpayer interest.

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