Our Chicago: Water Safety

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, June 2, 2024
Our Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The lakefront is one of the things that makes Chicago so unique, but it can be dangerous.

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The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project reports there have been 14 drownings in the Great Lakes so far this year, five were in Lake Michigan.

Representatives from the Water Safety Task Force Metro Chicago joined ABC7 Chicago to talk about safety not only in the lake, but pools and anywhere else that people go to swim.

As temperatures begin to warm up, local officials urge swimming safety.

Co-Founder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project Dave Benjamin said knowing how to swim is not enough when visting Lake Michigan.

"With Lake Michigan, we have wind traveling over the lake. Say from north to south that's 300 miles of wind stretching to the south end we can get several types of dangerous currents that happen like longshore currents, rip currents, structural currents," Benjamin said. "It's a west wind it's blowing off-shore so anything that floats can go far and fast off-shore so there's a lot of hazards just caused by the wind that most people really aren't paying attention to which way the wind is blowing when they go to the beach."

He added that progress in raising awareness of the dangers has been made thanks to news reports on surf forecasts, rip current alert days.

"A law was passed in Illinois as well now, in Indiana, for public rescue equipment to be on the lakefront. So that's making it safer as well and it's a big, red weatherproof case that people can see and there's a life ring inside so that gives a little bit of awareness that we should be more on alert because they actually have a life ring here and lives could be in danger," Benjamin said.

American Red Cross Training Services First Responder and Aquatic Strategic Account Executive Tim Oldenburg said lifeguards at beaches and pools make all the difference.

"There's a huge preventative benefit to having a lifeguard there because they're professionally trained to know how to respond to those situations that potentially could come up in an emergency," Oldenburg said.

In recent years there's been a shortage of lifeguards, Oldenburg added.

"It's an extremely competitive market out there for the age ranges that these facilities want to hire. But many facilities have come up with a lot of different initiatives and incentives and referral programs that help them attract and increase their employment," he said.

As temperatures begin to warm up, local officials urge swimming safety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there are approximately 4,000 drowning deaths in the U.S. each year. These are people who drown in a bathtub, a pool or the open water.

Drowning is the number one cause of death among children ages 1 to 4.

Lurie Children's Hospital Dr. Michelle Macy is a pediatric emergency physician. She said drowning deaths in early childhood mostly happen because kids get access to pools and spaces for water when it's not swimming time.

"Their family isn't paying attention or tuned into that," she said. "We also see situations where kids have gotten comfortable with floatation devices and when they go near a pool without those they don't realize that they're not able to swim independently."

The doctor said close supervision, four sided fencing and keeping kids in arm's reach until they know how to swim are crucial for swimming safety.

The CDC found racial disparities among drowning victims.Native Americans, Alaska Native and African Americas drown at higher rates.

"The racial disparities that we see in terms of drowning deaths have really deep historic roots and come from exclusionary practices that have been in place in this country for decades and centuries," she said. "So, it's not something that's inherently different about kids of different races but it's that their families haven't had access to swimming. Their parents might not have experience being around the water or having an opportunity to learn themselves."

Dupage County Health Department recently awarded thousands of dollars to five Illinois public swimming facilities to provide swim lessons to preschool-aged children ages 3-to-5 years old.

They include the Chicago Park District, Hoffman Estates Park District, Belvidere Family YMCA, Collinsville Maryville Troy YMCA and the Vandalia Park District.