A jet ski passes in the background as lifeguards paddle in to shore as participants in the New England Lifeguard Championships at Ogunquit Beach in this 2016 Seacoast Online file photo. Credit: Rich Beauchesne / Seacoast Online Credit: Rich Beauchesne / Seacoast Online

A lifeguard walkout caused a shortage of beach workers in Ogunquit heading into the busiest months of summer.

Longtime lifeguard J.P Argenti said the interim town manager stripped his lifeguard captain title and gave it to the fire chief, a move that triggered a lifeguard walkout. He had been fighting for more pay and hours for his veteran lifeguards.

“We were in a dangerous situation, and that’s the alarm bell I was trying to raise,” Argenti said. “The town officials were not taking me seriously. They decided we’re sick of talking to you, J.P., so they demoted me.”

The fire chief said the move was designed to have fewer department heads report to the town manager, but also to free up Argenti’s administrative duties to give him more time on the beach.

“There was really no intent to have a change in personnel. And unfortunately, some folks walked away,” Ogunquit Fire Chief Russell Osgood said. “But the ones that are here now are doing a great job.”

Twenty-one lifeguards are still on the job, but as many as 15 left, including those with the most experience.

As a result, two lifeguard stands went unmanned Monday in the more sparsely-populated area of Ogunquit Beach.

“Which leaves about an eight-tenths of a mile stretch with no guards,” Argenti said.

Because of the shortage, the fire chief plans to shift lifeguard stands down the beach for better coverage and to take a proactive approach.

“We’re reducing the depth that people can go in so they don’t get into trouble in the first place,” Osgood said.

Argenti is asking for public support to reinstate him as captain, but town leaders are already looking for new lifeguards.