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Lifeguards in Los Angeles raked in executive-level six-figure salaries last year, report shows

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VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Southern California lifeguards are not your typical beach bums. Well, at least they're not paid like it.

According to shocking new report from nonprofit watchdog Open the Books, lifeguards in Los Angeles County, California, raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars last year — with the top earner, lifeguard captain Daniel Douglas, taking home $510,283 in compensation.

Roughly half of the lifeguard captain's massive paycheck came from putting in overtime at the Pacific Ocean, the watchdog said.

The second highest-paid, lifeguard chief Fernando Boiteux, earned $463,517 in 2021, with $142,529 of his total pay coming in benefits. And the third, section chief Kenichi Ballet-Haskett, made $409,414, with more than $100,000 of the compensation listed as "other pay."

But the lucrative compensation isn't consolidated at the top. Rather, Open the Books auditors found that nearly 100 L.A. lifeguards earned at least $200,000 including benefits last year, while 20 made $300,000 and up.

"It’s time we put Baywatch on pay watch," the watchdog noted, adding that in addition to their incredible six-figure salaries, L.A. guards can also retire early at the age of 55 with 79% of their pay.

The group noted that only two of the county's top 20 earners were women. It gathered the information through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Why exactly the guards in Southern California earn executive-level money on a yearly basis is a question that many tax-paying residents may soon want to ask. L.A. lifeguard pay dwarfs the national average of $33,000, according to Comparably.

On its website, the Los Angeles County Fire Department boasts a rigorous swim test and credentialing system and claims its lifeguards "have a long-standing tradition of being one of the top ocean lifeguarding agencies in the world."

But still, most readers would likely agree that something fishy is going on in So-Cal.

In response to the Open the Books report, the L.A. Fire Department issued the following statement: “The Los Angeles County Fire Department had approximately 166 full-time Ocean Lifeguards and 600 seasonal recurrent Ocean Lifeguards. All our lifeguards, including those in leadership positions, have taken on an enormous responsibility. They are responsible for protecting 72 miles of coastline, 10,526 square miles of open ocean waters, Catalina Island, and 1,686 square miles of Los Angeles County inland waterways."

The statement continued: "In that same year, we had over 50 million beachgoers and our lifeguards executed over 9,286 ocean rescues and responded to over 13,303 medical calls. During large scale brush fires, our lifeguards take on additional responsibilities to work on specialized incident management teams to support firefighters all over the state – as they did in 2021 when wildfires burned an estimated 2,568,948 acres here in California. Additionally, our lifeguards were a critical part of the COVID-19 response efforts. The Lifeguard Division provided personnel, logistics, and incident management qualifications to support COVID-19 Testing and COVID-19 vaccinations all over the County of Los Angeles."

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