Lake Michigan lifeguards emphasize water safety on 1st day of Summer to prevent unintentional drownings

GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- Water safety is front and center Saturday morning at Wells Street Beach in Gary, Indiana as Lake Michigan lifeguards prepare for swimmers looking to escape the summer heat.

Saturday kicks off the first official day of summer and first responders want people to be aware of the dangers of the lake.

"We have high water levels. There's a lot of beach erosion, a lot of new debris that's in the water that can be a hazard for boats as well as swimmers," said Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project Executive Director Dave Benjamin.

Benjamin said he expects more people to confront these hazards over the summer, many of whom may resort to jumping into Lake Michigan since some pools may be shut down by the pandemic.

"Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in the nation," Benjamin explained. "Often times with drowning there's very little yelling, or waving. A drowning person is typically facing shore or the closest exit out of the water."

He said Saturday's presentation in Gary is all the more urgent because this year's earlier presentations were cancelled by COVID-19 shutdowns.

But now he's sharing safety tips once again.

"Flip, float, and follow. Go on the back and float," Benjamin instructed. "Conserve energy and get the breathing under control and then follow the float. Breathing in as long as possible for a professional rescue team to arrive."

Benjamin wants municipalities like the Cty of Chicago to have lifeguards on duty when lakefront spaces reopen, even if the beaches are officially still closed.

He said people will still find a way to swim, and this way there will be professional rescuers ready to prevent unintentional drownings, which the CDC says happen every day.

"You don't have time to call 911," he stressed.

Benjamin recommends always swimming near life guards on duty, and says you should wear a life jacket too -reminding us that even strong swimmers can drown.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.