Our community was devastated by the recent drowning at our lakefront of 13-year-old Darihanne Torres.
As a father, I can’t begin to imagine the unfathomable pain and suffering her parents and siblings are enduring. I attended Darhanne’s wake on Friday and conveyed to her parents the sorrow of the entire Rogers Park community over their daughter’s tragic death.
Though we mourn the death of young Darihanne, we should not forget the brave first responders and community residents who put their own lives at risk in an attempt to rescue Darihanne and another girl, who fortunately survived. Please join me in thanking our police officers, firefighters and the countless Good Samaritans who did everything they could to save the two children.
This horrible tragedy reminds us of the critical importance of beach safety and has prompted impassioned conversations and suggestions about what we can do to prevent such tragic events in the future. These include calls for extended lifeguard hours, more signage, enhanced water safety education for people of all ages and better training for public safety officers responding to water safety emergencies.
Some of these common sense ideas are already being implemented. At my request, the Chicago Park District this week will be repainting the faded “No Diving” warning signs at Pratt Pier and other lakefront locations where people may be tempted to dive into the water.
I also asked the Park District to instruct their lifeguards to keep warning flags displayed even after hours on days when lake conditions warrant them. The Park District is also exploring technology upgrades, such as text notifications or an intercom system, to alert beachgoers to dangerous conditions.
In the meantime, the City of Chicago is undertaking steps to dramatically improve water rescue training for both police officers and firefighters. Chicago’s new public safety training academy will include a swimming pool and dive tank that will enable both police officers and firefighters to receive scenario-based water rescue training
Enhanced swimming and water safety education for our young people is a critical component to reducing water fatalities. This is why I’ve asked Chicago Public Schools and the Park District to enter into a partnership to repair Sullivan High School’s broken swimming pool.
According to Sullivan Principal Chad Adams, the pool has been inoperable since last October, forcing him to cancel the swimming classes that all Sullivan students were required to take. A partnership with the Park District will enable Sullivan to resume its swimming classes and allow community residents to use the pool after school hours.
A number of other proposals, including calls for longer lifeguard hours, and improved signage also merit serious consideration. These measures, however, should be implemented thoughtfully and not simply as a knee-jerk response to a horrible tragedy.
For example, according to the Chicago Tribune, restoring lifeguard hours to their pre-2009 levels would cost the Park District approximately $825,000 a year. This would require either cuts to other Park District programming or an increase in taxes and/or fees. Perhaps this is a measure well worth taking, or perhaps there are other equally effective ways of accomplishing the same goal of saving lives.
Similarly, signs already exist at every beach in our neighborhood and throughout Chicago’s lakefront instructing beachgoers to swim only when lifeguards are present. But perhaps additional information and warnings should be posted to supplement that which is already there.
Accordingly, I am assembling a task force of City and Park District officials and water safety experts to examine these and other ideas for improving beach and lakefront safety and saving lives.
I plan to convene the first task force meeting within the next few weeks and will ask the task force to develop a set of proposals in time for the next beach season.
While the Chicago Park District implements the critical short-term measures, and the task force works on creating recommendations, there are steps we all can take to improve beach safety for ourselves and others.
The best way to keep ourselves and youth safe at the beach is through swimming and water safety training. The Park District offers the nation’s largest aquatics program. Find out about their swimming lessons here. Swimming lessons also are available at the nearby High Ridge YMCA and Loyola University.
Before heading to the beach, you may check out swim conditions for all Chicago beaches on the Park District website and learn how to react if caught in a rip current. And here’s an important article to read on the signs to look for when a person is drowning (hint: “drowning does not look like drowning”).
Once at the beach, follow the instructions of our lifeguards and keep in mind that our lake is a spectacular feature of the neighborhood that deserves our respect and attention to safety.