SARATOGA - Before you know it, the snow will melt, and it will be time once again to pull out the snorkels and swim trunks.

But one thing that isn't waiting for warm weather is lifeguard training.

State Office of Recreation Assistant Regional Director Robert Kuhn said over the past several years, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain qualified individuals for lifeguarding positions.

In an effort to increase the number of available trained guards, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced earlier this month that it will be offering a winter lifeguard training course free of charge.

The course will be held Jan. 7-11, from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. daily, at the Skidmore College campus.

This is the first year the parks office has offered this class, and Kuhn said he hopes it brings in more qualified people.

The lack of qualified lifeguards is due to a lot of reasons, Kuhn said. "The first is that so much more training is needed now than years ago," he said.

Not only do you have to get certified by the Red Cross, Kuhn said, but you also need CPR and AED (automatic external defibrillator) certification along with bloodborne pathogen and other first aid training, and you must pass a state test.

The usual cost of a lifeguard training course is around $300 - a cost Kuhn said most young people can't really afford.

"The state parks agency is picking up that cost," he said.

Those who pass the course and get all the required certifications, Kuhn said, will be guaranteed a position next summer.

But in order to take the course, a person must meet certain strict requirements.

Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Water Safety Coordinator Patricia Forward said in order to take the course, applicants must be at least 16 years of age, pass a required swimming pre-test and have at least 20/40 vision in each eye.

Forward said the pre-test is a timed 550-yard continuous swim, consisting of 200 yards of front crawl, 200 yards of breast stroke and 150 years of front crawl or breast stroke. The pre-test also includes an underwater swimming portion.Job applicants must also pass a physical.

"We give out medical forms once we've offered employment that need to be signed and stamped by a physician," Forward said. "If the doctor doesn't sign off, then we can't hire them." For those who are unable to attend the state training classes at Skidmore, other area programs, although more expensive, are available. The Glens Falls YMCA Red Cross Lifeguard training class will be held Feb. 20-23. The cost is $250 for non-YMCA members and $200 for YMCA members.

The Queensbury Department of Parks and Recreation will be holding a Red Cross lifeguard certification class beginning March 2.

Deirdre Reynolds, the department's aquatics director, said water training will be held three Sundays, March 2, 9 and 16, and classroom sessions will be held March 3, 5, 10 and 12. The cost of the class is $110 for residents and $115 for non-residents.

The cost, Reynolds said, includes a textbook and a "pocket mask," for doing CPR.

This class is for first-time training, Reynolds said. It is not a recertification class, and as of now, there are not any recertification classes being offered.

The local Red Cross chapter will not be holding its usual lifeguard training courses.

Rick Borden, Red Cross Adirondack Chapter director of community preparedness, said the organization hasn't been able to schedule any courses because the area pools it typically uses are under construction.

Borden said although there aren't any courses currently scheduled, that's not to say there won't be any within the next few months.

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