Friday, September 24, 2021

‘A cheap and easy way to save lives’

     Like most boys, I have an outsize interest in emergency gear. From road flares to safety goggles. It could be the most mundane thing. A fire extinguisher. A sewing kit. You name it. Certain devices practically vibrate with possibility. Even a flashlight is halfway to an adventure story: the rainy night, the dark cave, the unexpected bear.     
     Especially life rings. Beats there a human heart so dead as to be able to pass one of those, on a Chicago bridge, say, and not imagine the cry for help, the perfect toss to some unfortunate thrashing in the river below? The dripping rescued person. The stammered thanks. “Mister ... you saved my life!”
     That’s the fantasy. The reality is more complicated.
     The Chicago Park District announced it was going to start placing life rings along strategic spots on the waterfront, in the wake of the tragic drowning of Miguel Cisneros in Lake Michigan in August, less than six feet from the pier. His family felt that if there were a life ring, the 19-year-old could have been saved.
     Maybe. I don’t want to dispute with a grieving family. But the views of the bereaved and public pressure do not always lead to good policy. A question arose that cuts to the heart of this: Does anyone ever get saved by life rings?
     A quick check of the Sun-Times and Tribune archives found nothing, unless you count sailors plucked out of the Atlantic during World War II. Ditto for a century of the Daily News. The Red Cross deferred to the Coast Guard, which is mum. The Department of Transportation maintains 27 life rings on the Riverwalk, and 135 scattered around branches of the river. But they don’t keep track of how they’re used, other than to note that 20% vanish every year.

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  1. "The idea is not just to fling them at a drowning person. ... The rings are meant to be grabbed by the person going in."

    As somebody who would not even consider jumping in because my poor swimming ability would only make matters worse, the idea that the life ring is not simply for throwing at the person in distress would never have occurred to me.

    Whatever their effectiveness or frequency of use, it would seem that "better than nothing" is, indeed, better than nothing.

    Unrelated to that, except that it's in the same edition of the S-T, I loved Roeper's appreciation of the John Belushi movie "Continental Divide" today. An under-the-radar favorite of mine since seeing it when it came out.

  2. Pratt Pier, know the area well. As a youngster my grandfather would take me fishing. At the street turnaround were benches, the grandmas’ would sit talking in Yiddish. Back then the water was clearer and shallow. There were large boulders with sharp edges visible stacked against the pier.
    In college I took a lifeguard class. They focused on swimming strength and lifesaving technique, not relying on flotation devices because they may not always be available. Use the American crawl and keep an eye on the exact location where the victim is struggling. Dive on approach grab legs and turn them away from you, arm lock around the neck, and use the side stroke to get them to safety. At the time didn't need the job, so never bothered getting certified. On Chicago's lakefront the safest place for distance swimming is doing laps along the break wall between Oak St. and North Avenue Beach, there are a few ladders in place. Any flotation device or swimming aide like, water wings, inner tubes, paddle boards, and fins is prohibited. Because wind and current can rapidly blow you far from the beach.
    In Hawaii at a remote beach saw someone struggling in the water, instinct kicked in and I was able to grab him and swim toward shore. A local improvised a flotation device by filling a trash bag with air, sealing it and reached us within seconds. People watching us were duly impressed, but several locals told me in the ocean, taking the few seconds needed to find a flotation aide is the best technique. On remote beaches there were locations with whirlpools, cliff diving, blow holes, and strong currents to preform deeds of daring do. But only attempted with a strong swimmer (with a floating aid) as backup spotting for you.
    And now to Miguel Cisneros. Because of the memories when going by on the bicycle trail, I'll take a diversion and visit the Pratt pier. As I recall, the water is deeper now, boulders not always visible. There are no ladders that I can recall there, allowing a swimmer to climb out of the water. As you walk on the pier, every 50 feet or so is a caricature of a swimmer with a red circle and slash through it. If you ignore the warning and dive in the water at the end of the pier you will have to swim approx. 150 yards to reach shore to the south, 50 yards to the north,, not difficult for a "strong" swimmer. Miquel's Mother said he was a strong swimmer, not quite sure about that. It would have worked out better if Miquel had a strong swimmer as backup, and not have to rely on the kindness or strangers.

    1. One important question, was Cisneros drunk or stoned when he went into the water?

    2. I always called it Farwell Pier, and went there often when I was young, back when my grandmother lived on Estes in the late Fifties and early Sixties. My Detroit cousins were amazed by the size of Lake Michigan. Decades later, as a young adult, I would bike from South Evanston to that same pier, and hang out at the beach. Are the murals on the concrete still there, and looking better than ever?

      So I was there when the cops and the firefighters come screaming down Farwell one Fourth of July in the late Seventies, after an obese male swimmer dove off the pier and never came up. I knew about the hidden rocks and boulders, and that the water was not deep there. I figured that he didn't know the territory, and had probably hit the bottom, or the rocks. I stuck around until his body was located and fished out and hauled away.

      The pier was always a popular fishing spot. Loyola and Morse and Touhy were our family's beaches. The adjoining park was a big hippie hangout for a while, circa 1970. And one of the busiest outdoor basketball courts on the lakefront was just to the west of the pier, but I'm assuming that the hoops and the blacktopped court are long gone, torn out by the city because of gangs and shootings. Even so, most of my nostalgic memories of the beach and the pier are good ones.

    3. I have the suspicion we may have crossed paths at some time, too many shared memories, Found my grandparents laundry bag, they lived at 6817 N. Lakewood, from the mid 60's to the mid 70's. It was a walk of several blocks down Pratt to reach the lakefront. My siblings and I would swim near there where ever a lifeguard in a rowboat was watching. Remember the tennis courts, I think they're still there. Since the mid 80's I typically bicycle from the loop to the pier and back. North of Hollywood the path runs down side streets. I visited the mural area a few decades ago, but that spot is not easy to bicycle, too much broken pavement. Next time I'll take another side trip and check it out.

  3. Being a boater most of my adult life, I'm pro lif0 ring but ladders are important too.

    I've often wondered why there aren't ladders every several feet in case someone falls into the Chicago river. Easy to fall in but not to get out. just concrete walls. Same at the lake Michigan downtown breakwall.

    1. Well, that would cost money, of course. But, having wondered that myself, I wonder if it's also because they think that would encourage people to jump in, knowing that there was a ladder to climb out.

  4. I was trained how to use the “Torpedo Buoy” which was nothing more than a tubular plastic float with about a ten foot leash. If you watched Baywatch you know what I’m talking about.
    The idea was to swim out to the the person in distress, push the torpedo toward the person, and loop the end of the leash across your shoulder. Once the person got a good hold on the torpedo you just swim them to shore. If the person wanted to “walk” their way up the leash toward you, you simply removed the least to keep your distance until the person got with the program.
    I suppose a ring could be used in the same manner.
    I had to describe the buoy because this group is too sophisticated, except for me, to have viewed Baywatch.

    1. LOL, Les. I'm no sophisticate, but I've never watched it and thought it was a funny reference even before I got to your last sentence.


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