Observations and Chicago Fire Radio Communications Give Complete Story of the Complexity of Rescue of a Person from Icy Lake Michigan Near Erie Street, Chicago

Icy Water Rescue in Lake Michigan: Video showing recognition of an emergency, getting help, and the actual rescue of a victim (including Chicago Fire Department audio, which begins at 3:55/elapsed time).

Police, firefighters and paramedics responded about 7:00 a.m. Saturday, February 15, 2020 to a report of a person in icy Lake Michigan water, clinging to the edge of shore near the Lakefront Trail. Reporting the incident and finding the person wasn’t so easy.

First, a jogger, apparently without a cellphone, became aware of the person in the water just before 7:00 a.m., and then attempted to flag down motorists going northbound on Lake Shore Drive. The person, who initially stumbled on the Lakefront trail, then fell in the water and was in the water about 2 minutes and ten seconds from the time the jogger noticed the victim to the time the jogger decided to risk their own life when no drivers stopped to assist. Chicago Fire Department Engine 98’s crew arrived about the time the jogger was crossing a dangerous Lake Shore Drive. Chicago Frie Battalion 1 arrived on the scene by 7:06 a.m.

Second, firefighters arriving at the northbound shoulder of Lake Shore Drive couldn’t see the victim in the water, and the jogger was still on the west side of Lake Shore Drive. Engine 2’s crew on the west side near the W Hotel (W Chicago – Lakeshore) met up with the jogger, and they notified Battalion 1 that the victim was across Lake Shore Drive from the W Hotel.

Third, other callers reported a general location near the Jardine Water Purification Plant and Milton Lee Olive Park. One firefighter searched the shore near Olive Park with binoculars from the shoulder of Lake Shore Drive. Chicago Fire Battalion Chief 1 diverted the water rescue team to Olive Park, but not for long.

Fourth, two Chicago Police Department SWAT member were on Lakeshore Trail and were able to see the victim clinging to the edge in the icy water. That’s when firefighters realized the victim was just beneath them, but not visible. The two Chicago police officers and the first firefighter that reached the shoreline pulled the victim to safety. Divers, who suited up to prepare for a more complex rescue, also rushed to the scene with their SCUBA gear. The victim was removed out of the water by 7:10 a.m.

Battalion 1 immediately dispatched the ambulance to return to the Lakefront Trail scene and called off the full water rescue response, which includes a special dive rescue truck (6-8-7), a fast boat and a rescue helicopter. Some of the water rescue team, such as 6-8-7’s crew, remained at the Lakefront trail scene.

A video released by the Chicago Police Department Sunday February 16, 2020 shows the entire incident — from the victim stumbling on the path, to the jogger attempting to flag down motorists, to the arrival of the firefighters and police officers, and the actual rescue and removal of the victim. The Lakefront Trail security camera can be operated remotely, and it captured various angles of the scene. The camera was in stationary mode when the victim fell in the water, and was apparently not aimed at the the location where the victim fell in the water. In the manual remote operator mode, the camera shows the victim (with face obscured) conscious and struggling in the water.

The victim was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital a few blocks southwest of the scene by the paramedic crew on CFD Ambulance 11. The victim’s condition was listed as critical. A police officer was also reported to have a minor injury, and was assessed by paramedics from Ambulance 42.

The incident teaches an important lesson about reporting incidents that occur at locations without numeric address. If it’s safe or even possible, people should remain at the scene to help point out to rescuers exactly where the victim is located. Of course, this was not possible because the jogger had to leave the scene to actually get help. Specific locations are also extremely important. If a 9-1-1 caller mentions a landmark, the caller should try to be specific if the victim isn’t at the exact location of the landmark mentioned.

Warning barriers on Lakefront Trail warn against using the trail, but do not make it impossible to travel on the trail.



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