Another child drowned at a Chicago beach. Tell Rahm to fund prevention and rescue efforts.
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Dear Mayor Rahm Emanuel,
On July 6th, 2018 shortly after lifeguards went off-duty, a clearly trained, talented, and brave officer ran to the waterfront and with no hesitation risked his own life to battle four foot waves coming in every three seconds and deadly currents without any floatation devices to rescue a limp, 13-year-old girl who, in an instant, had been sucked further out than the break wall onto Lake Michigan at Leone Beach in Rogers Park, Chicago. He could have easily been another victim.
Even with a quick response from police, there were no life preservers on scene for nearly half an hour. In that time, police and concerned beach-goers, eager to help, were unable to locate the second victim from the shore, and a second officer entered the water near the break wall, fully uniformed, becoming trapped in the dangerous currents herself. A civilian went out to help her and both were clinging to the wall, ultimately creating more victims to rescue as people flocked to form a chain atop the wall in an attempt to pull them safely out. The Fire department has limitations in their response time, but plenty of police officers were present, well intentioned, notably concerned, but woefully under resourced for the management of a water rescue scene. The impetus is on the city of Chicago to not only have adequate safety measures in place to prevent tragic lake drownings, but also to provide adequate training and equipment to officers, the first to arrive, to keep good samaritans and themselves safe on a drowning scene. It is all too common that would be rescuers become the victims themselves in these deadly waters, and metrics point to Lake Michigan as being the most fatal of the five Great Lakes— since 2010, it has had nearly as many drownings and water rescues as the other four Great Lakes combined. This year alone, it has already claimed eleven lives, the latest being a thirteen year old girl, who was found over an hour after her friend’s rescue.
With currently millions spent bringing people to the lakefront for recreation and tourism, we implore the city of Chicago to dedicate funds to safety and prevention rather than investing them in costly and tragic rescues. We believe that you and our Chicago administration can help us make our lake the Greatest of Lakes with respect to safety and optimal tourism/recreation. These plans honor the memories of all whose lives have been lost and will serve to prevent future loss.
IMMEDIATE NECESSITIES FOR LASTING IMPACT:
1. Posted information and diagrams in multiple languages
- The behaviors of someone who is having trouble in the water.
- The behaviors of a drowning person.
- Explain why only a lifeguard should go into the water to rescue.
- “Reach and Throw Don’t Go” for how to properly throw a floating object to someone who is drowning or needs help in the water without becoming another victim and a list of everyday flotation devices like basketballs.
2. Posted information about dangerous currents with diagrams for Flip-Float-Follow near all piers and break walls
3. Rescue floatation devices and hypothermia blankets in all police cars that patrol the beach.
4. Specialized, on-going training and clear protocol for officers who patrol beachfronts on managing a drowning or near-drowning scene
- responding to victims pulled out of the water
- keeping good samaritans safe
- notifying families promptly, including the families of minor witnesses without family present
- alerting nearby areas for safe-search support from the shore
5. Facilitate lifeguard presence for all daylight hours at Chicago beaches
6. Implement School Water Safety Curriculum in addition to Fire Safety Drills, Shelter-In-Place Drills and Lockdown Drills at Chicago Public Schools to teach about dangerous currents and Flip-Float-Follow techniques
- Install throw rings attached to 911 call boxes on all Chicago beaches.
Alternatively, the LifeSaving Society, recommends a cost saving option of the Public Access Lifering (PAL) project, which is easy to install, low maintenance, and reduces risk of vandalism and theft.
- Each installation should honor a victim with a photo and name, reminding beach goers the true danger of the water, finality of time, and potentially allowing those lives lost to save another.
- Great Lakes Water Safety brochures at beach accesses
Thank you for your time, consideration, and urgency to this matter.
Halle Quezada and Kathy McGroarty-Torres
Concerned parents, teachers, and witnesses to this horrible tragedy
With Support From:
Ellen Rome, MD, MPH, FAAP
Head, Center for Adolescent Medicine
Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital
Executive Director, Great Lakes Water Surf Rescue Program
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