ROGERS PARK — A man struggling in Lake Michigan along a Rogers Park breakwater was saved Wednesday evening thanks to life rings recently installed along the lakefront.
One of the Chicago Park District’s new life rings was put to use just after 7 p.m. Wednesday at Jarvis Beach, where a man was struggling in strong waves, witnesses said.
The man was in the rough lake, pinned up against a breakwater. His three friends were standing above him near the end of the breakwater, trying in vain to pull him up, witness Robin Vice said.
“You couldn’t tell if they were playing or not,” Vice said. “Then I heard him yell ‘hurry!’ … It was for real.”
When dragging the man out of the lake by hand failed, one of the friends ran to grab the life ring, Vice said.
She was having trouble removing the life ring from its container. That’s when Vice went over and helped remove the ring. Vice saw life guards give a demonstration on the new rings earlier in the summer, she said.
The man’s friends dropped him the life ring, with one of them standing on the beach and helping him in via the life ring’s rope.
The near-drowning took place on a day with dangerous waves along the Lake Michigan shore in Chicago, according to the local office of the National Weather Service.
Red “do not swim” flags were flying at the beach, and the group was previously warned by life guards about staying out of the water, Vice said. The rescue happened just after life guards left for the day.
Without the newly installed life rings, the situation could have turned tragic, Vice said.
“It was a blessing that it was there,” she said.
At least 24 people have drowned in Lake Michigan so far in 2022, NBC Chicago reports, most recently a 9-year-old girl who drowned in Gary, Indiana.
The Park District installed life rings along the lakefront late last year and early this summer following years of advocacy for life-saving devices by Rogers Park neighbors and officials. There were 115 installed along the lakefront by the start of the beach season, according to the district.
Rogers Park neighbors have pushed the district for years to respond to drowning deaths in the neighborhood. The issue came to a head after the drowning death of 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros last summer near Farwell Pier, about a mile south of Wednesday’s rescue.
Neighbors installed life rings at that pier following Cisneros and at least two other drowning deaths at the location, but those rings were removed by the Park District.
The incident led to a new wave of advocacy for life rings along the lakefront. The park district reversed its policy on life rings and Rogers Park’s state Rep. Kelly Cassidy helped pass a state law mandating life-saving devices along the lakefront.
This is at least the second time the life rings have been used to save a person in risk of drowning in Rogers Park, said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), who helped lead the charge on the Park District policy change.
“A big thank you to the individuals who were present and who acted quickly,” Hadden said on social media. “I am again proud to have been part of passing legislation mandating this, an action that was first and foremost led by the community and that should not have taken as long as it did.”
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