Lifebuoys will be installed on Pratt Pier, Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly said on Friday, 19 days after a teenager drowned there and after his family and local officials demanded that park officials are doing more to prevent deaths.
In addition to a lifebuoy on Pratt Beach, where a lifeguard is normally stationed when the beach is open, another flotation device will be installed on the pier, Kelly said. This flips the long-held argument of the city and the parks district that lifebuoys along the waterfront encourage people to enter the water and put themselves at risk of injury or death – and make the city responsible.
“For now, this is a pilot program, there will be a lifebuoy on Pratt beach, which is normally a populated place, there will also be a lifebuoy on the pier,” said Kelly said. “I don’t like this decision. I cannot stress enough, gentlemen, we are in the area of personal safety. We’re in the business of teaching kids to swim, not something that gives any semblance of comfort in going in that water where it’s said not to swim, but we’re going to do it. I am not above the city, I am not above the citizens.
Despite these apprehensions, Kelly said that “the decision must be made”.
“There will be a lifebuoy on the pier, there will be a lifebuoy on the beach, there will be lifebuoys on all inhabited beaches,” Kelly said.
Even as Kelly and Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke at an independent press conference on Friday morning, Chicago Park district officials released a statement to the media that said lifebuoys would only be installed in “Licensed lakeside swimming spots” almost simultaneously with Kelly’s announcement of the new policy. .
Chicago Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons admitted to WTTW News that the statement was wrong.
Park District officials have repeatedly removed lifebuoys installed by neighbors at Tobey Prinz Beach Park, where Miguel Cisneros, 19, drowned on August 22.
Kelly said he doesn’t regret removing those rings.
“I think I made the right decision then, I think I am making the right decision now,” said Kelly.
Kelly and Lightfoot both said they mourned the death of Cisneros.
“When we lose a life, especially if it’s a kid, it wears out on all of us,” Kelly said.
State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who represents Rodgers Park, said she was grateful to water safety advocates and community members who pushed for change and “have maintained the pressure “.
“It didn’t have to be that hard,” Cassidy said. “Now let’s make sure the entire lakeside has proper signage and equipment. “
However, Kelly’s announcement contradicts what District Attorney General Tim King told Chicago Park District Commissioners on Wednesday.
“Do not swim” signage will be reapplied and repainted, King said, and materials will be shared widely through community partners regarding lakefront safety rules, flag system and swimming times.
In higher-risk areas, likely to include piers, the Park District will completely restrict public access through the use of gates, King said on Wednesday.
Kelly said on Friday that cutting access would be a last resort.
Community meetings would be held before a decision was made to cut off access, Lemons said.