Maplewood, Richmond Heights lifeguards fired over secret chat group

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RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Mo. – Controversy continues over the firing of lifeguards at swimming pools in Maplewood and Richmond Heights.

The lifeguards call their dismissals unfair. Pool patrons were upset because top attractions at the Maplewood pool were closed Friday. The controversy has to do with the lifeguards' use of a "group-chat" app.

Fox 2 confirmed at least 10 lifeguards from the two pools, including the lifeguard manager, were either fired or quit in protest this week.

There were no slides and no lazy river at the Maplewood Family Aquatic Center, Friday. Those parts of the pool were closed off.

“I just really want to know why that’s happening, because the slide’s never been closed in my life here,” said Bennett King, 7, a big fan of the slides and lazy river.

“That’s what you count on when you come to a public pool that if somebody needs help they’re going to have enough staff to cover that,” his mother, Sara King, said.

“The lazy river and slides aren’t open, which happens sometimes when they don’t have enough lifeguards on duty,” said pool patron Karen Pollack. “I don’t have any significant concerns. We’ve always really enjoyed the Maplewood pool…I trust the leadership and those in charge to make sure the kids are safe.”

There simply weren’t enough lifeguards to keep everything open.

“Now Hiring Lifeguards” signs are posted in Maplewood and at The Heights Community Center pool in Richmond Heights.

Richmond Heights City Manager Amy Hamilton said the signs had up all season. The firings had not impacted staffing, she said.

She confirmed eight lifeguards had been dismissed this week for “conduct on or off duty that threatens safety, health, or public respect.” Two to three more quit in protest, she said.

Two of the life guards told Fox 2 a worker came forward claiming to be offended by messages shared among the lifeguards through the “GroupMe” phone app. They knew of offensive messages, weren’t told of any, and used the app outside of work, they said.

Head lifeguard, Kaelin Ludwig, 20, said he quit.

“I’ve been working there for 4 years. It was a pretty big shock…I told her (a city official) I thought what she did was extremely unfair. I refused to work for somebody who treats their employees like that,” Ludwig said.

“It just seems a little fishy,” King said. “That’s what I would ask at a city hall meeting. We need some further explanation of what happened because it was out of nowhere and yes, we’ve been in an excessive heat warning and we want to be at the pool.”

The lifeguards said they want to know more, too.

Hamilton said she would not comment further on personnel matters.

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