If you hear a helicopter flying over the Rogers Park lakefront this Saturday afternoon, don’t be alarmed. In all likelihood, it will be part of a special WATER SAFETY DEMONSTRATION that I am sponsoring with the Chicago Fire Department’s Air Sea Rescue Unit and the Chicago Park District.
The demonstration is taking place this Saturday, August 25th, 1:00 p.m., at Greenleaf Ave. and the Lake (just east of the Loyola Park Park Fieldhouse). I strongly encourage all Rogers Park residents concerned about water safety to attend this presentation, but I especially urge parents to bring their children.
Those attending the demonstration will learn about how to be safe at the beach and around water and what to do when someone gets in trouble. Swimming in Lake Michigan is a totally different environment than swimming in a pool, and things can happen in the lake that don’t happen in a swimming pool. These are among the topics that will be addressed at Saturday’s presentation.
The Fire Department also will demonstrate a typical water and fire rescue operation using one of its Bell 412 EP helicopters and its 92-foot fire boat, the Christopher Wheatley, which is capable of shooting 17,000 gallons of water per minute. The department’s SCUBA Team 687 also will be on hand to interact with you and let you see their rescue apparatus.
I requested this water safety demonstration in the wake of the tragic drowning of young Darihanne Torres in early July. I have since met with officials from the Fire and Police Departments and the Park District to discuss how to make our beaches more safe.
I am in the process of assembling a broader task force of city officials and water safety experts to examine ideas for improving beach and lakefront safety and saving lives. The first meeting of the task force will take place in September with the goal of developing and implementing a set of safety proposals in time for the beginning of next year’s beach season.
In preparation for the task force, the Park District at my request commenced a nationwide survey of how other lifesaving agencies operate, including the hours of operations for lifeguards. The survey includes agencies on the Great Lakes, as well as the east and coasts of the U.S. The Park District also is examining new methods of communicating to the public about dangerous water conditions, including public address systems and lakefront weather alert apps.
The Park District added new “Swim Only When Lifeguards Are on Duty” signs to all lifeguard perches on the beaches.
Finally, the Park District now posts lakefront weather advisories on every page of their website.
The Park District also plans to increase education and awareness, including increased water safety demonstrations along the lakefront, such as the one I am sponsoring this Saturday, and increased swimming education for our children, with the ultimate goal of teaching every child to swim by fourth grade.
To accomplish this goal, the Park District plans to create a grammar school sports swimming team league and partner with Chicago Public Schools to gain access to their swimming pools and repair those pools that are not currently functioning, such as the pool at Sullivan High School.
In the meantime, Park District and the Fire Department encourage swimmers to follow these tips to stay safe while in the water:
- Be sure you’re swimming in a designated area of the lake.
- Use the buddy system.
- Take swim lessons beforehand.
- If you’re caught in a rip current, “flip, float and follow.” Flip on your back and float to conserve energy. Follow the current and allow it to carry you back to shore.
- Small children should swim near their parents. Adults should always keep an eye on the location of their child.
- Pay attention to the warning flags on the beach, which determine how safe it is to swim.
- Ask the lifeguards for help in an emergency situation or if you have any questions or concerns.
In short, this Saturday’s water safety demonstration is but one of a series of measures that are underway to enhance the safety of the beaches in Rogers Park and all along Chicago’s lakefront.
I look forward to seeing you at Loyola Park this Saturday!