An Illinois bill that requires life equipment to be available along the Lake Michigan coasts was passed by both houses of the state’s Congress after Rogers Park activists pushed for increased safety measures following multiple drownings.
Activists in Rogers Park including Halle Quazada, founder of the Chicago Alliance for Water Front Safety, organized and wrote letters to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to get life rings put up and raise awareness around water safety.
“There is definitely a feeling of relief but also a sense of being conscious that it was too late,” Quazada said. “It was hard to celebrate when we know the cost that it came with.”
Quazada started the alliance after she and her family went to the beach in 2018 and witnessed the drowning of a 13-year-old girl. She tried to jump knee-high waves and got taken down by a structural current, according to Quazada.
The bill states the owner of a pier or drop-off on Lake Michigan must install public rescue equipment. This includes installing life ring buoys along the coast, according to the Illinois General Assembly website.
It further says rescue equipment, such as life rings, will be installed at all high-incident drowning areas at an owner’s property, the website said.
The bill also requires each local government that owns a pier or drop-off into the lake must track and report all fatal and non-fatal lakefront drownings near the pier or drop-off to the Department of Public Health. The department will analyze the reporting and provide plans for a reduction in drawings.
The bill was first filed by representative Kelly M. Cassidy on Oct. 5 and was passed five months later on March 29, 2022.
There is no mention of lifeguard presence in the bill.
In 2021, there were 98 drownings reported in The Great Lakes and since 2010 there have been 1,044, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project website.
The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project works to track drownings in the Great Lakes, teach water safety, work with families and friends of drowning victims, provide training for lifeguards and first responders and work on special projects, according to Co-founder and Executive Director Dave Benjamin.
Benjamin said he’s been working on life ring advocacy since 2011 and was happy to see the bill being passed.
“I am happy that it will be a law and I encourage all Illinois and Lake Michigan beaches that this will apply to act now and put the rescue equipment in place because that is a whole other summer season that a life could be lost,” Benjamin said.
The bill will be effective 180 days after becoming a law Sept. 25, according to the IGA website.
At this time, Loyola’s Campus Safety and Facilities don’t believe this new bill will impact Loyola since it doesn’t have any public access points to the lake on campus property, according to Loyola spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach.
There are no Michigan or Wisconsin laws that require life rings on the coasts.
Prior to the Illinois government passing the Lake Michigan Rescue Equipment Act, Chicago announced in a press release life rings and life preserver equipment will be installed at select lakefront locations, The Phoenix reported.
The district also installed increased signage along the lakefront to raise public awareness of beach safety after the death of Miguel Cisneros — a 19-year-old who drowned in Lake Michigan near the Tobey Prinz Beach Park (1050 W. Pratt Blvd.) on Aug. 22, 2021, the Phoenix reported.
Cisneros’s mother Maria Diaz worked with the 49th Ward Alderwomen, Maria Hadden, on installing more life rings. After weeks of working with residents and the park district, the city announced they would install the life rings, The Phoenix reported.
Rogers Park resident and visual artist Louise LeBourgouis said she’s an avid open water swimmer and talked about it on her Facebook page. She has been invited by Hadden to speak about water safety. She also along with Quazada wrote letters to Mayor Lori Lightfoot to increase water safety in 2019.
LeBourgoius said she was pleased to hear that the bill was passed, but she’s upset a whole summer will go by without it being a law.
“It’s 180 days where families and children and people wanting to go into the lake and taking risks,” Lebourgoius said. “I think it’s crazy to go into the summer season without this law. People do drown all year round but the more people who are at the beach, it’s more likely someone is going to drown.”
LeBourgoius said she encourages everyone to be safe and responsible in the water and keep an eye out for people in the lake when at the beach.
“The lake is big and beautiful and such a great resource but also very deadly if you don’t know what you are doing,” LeBourgoius said.