NASSAU COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) -- Officials in Nassau County are combatting the lifeguard shortage with a unique new approach, training kids as young as 15 to be the guardians at the pool.
Thursday was the third and final day of the lifeguard training course at the Nassau County Aquatic Center, and the trainees are nearly ready to take their tests.
Assuming they pass, they will be the youngest lifeguards ever to do the job.
"It just depends on your mental maturity and that stuff," 15-year-old trainee Tristan Ehrhardt said. "If 15 year-olds think they can do it, they can do it.."
Alex Amir, of Great Neck, is heading into his sophomore year of high school.
"I swim varsity, and I feel very confident to save someone in the pool," he said.
Nassau County, in conjunction with the towns of Oyster Bay and Hempstead, decided during this exceptional year of lifeguard shortages to lower the age to 15, opening up the door to many who truly want the job while at the same time, providing a badly needed cushion.
The county has nearly 200 lifeguards already but is hoping to hire at least 100 more.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said the younger lifeguards would likely cover kiddie pools where they can get their feet wet for tougher positions at the beach in future years.
"We checked with the health department, both in the state and the county," he said. "We are allowed to certify 15-year-olds for the kiddie pools."
The struggle to find qualified candidates has been real, but to those who worry that 15 sounds young -- especially as we've seen heartbreaking drownings in the tri-state area this year -- these students urge doubters to consider their passion, not just their age.
"I've seen people get hurt, and it broke my heart know that they could've been helped," Amir said.
The students will need to take several multiple choice tests, plus an in-water timed event and group scenario in order to qualify for the job.
But if attitude matters, theirs is downright refreshing.
"They're all very safe with us, and I'm very excited to be here," trainee Cat O'Connell said. "So I'll put my best efforts."
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