© Lerner Newspapers
MISTAKE BY THE LAKE
destruction of Chicago's lakefront airport was not done with any concern
for public safety. The midnight rip-up of Meigs Field forced the
eviction of the Chicago Fire Department's Air-Sea Rescue Unit without
warning the night the bulldozers came to crunch.
The rescue helicopters so vital to lakefront, river and lagoon responses
have been dispatched from the far south side since the night they were
tossed out of Meigs. Facilities for them were built on the lakefront
near the Calumet Harbor Coast Guard Station.
The Navy Pier area is Chicago's hottest tourist attraction. In warm
weather the lake is a magnet. Before Meigs Field disappeared, in an
emergency the fire department could launch a rescue copter with onboard
rescue diver and respond to Navy Pier in three or four minutes. It was a
matter of the personnel running out the door at the Meigs Fire Station
and quickly warming up the copter. They had priority take-off status.
Everything halted until they were airborne.
If a 911 call for that same helicopter came today, pull up a chair and
make yourself comfortable. It's going to be a few minutes. A few too
many minutes. A fire department pilot wishing to remain nameless told me
after the move to the "new" south side home that it was too
far away and added much flight time to their area of greatest service.
Now I can demonstrate just what he meant.
Sunday afternoon (April 25) a call to 911 reported a person in distress
in the lake off off a north side beach. Fire department land units were
sent led by a battalion chief. The fire boat berthed at the Jardine
Water Filtration Plant was sent, and a helicopter with diver was
dispatched from it's base on the far south side at 9500 South on Lake
The land based units arrived at the incident location and reported the
possibility of "something" in the water several hundred yards
off shore. A few minutes later the chief radioed "where's that
helicopter?" The answer to that question was the helicopter was on
the way and at that moment they were over the lakefront at 5500 south.
That would have put them just passing the Museum of Science and
Industry. There was still a long way to go. The distress call was about
The first rescue unit to arrive was a police marine unit. The helicopter
eventually arrived. The fire boat never got there and was returned to
it's berth. A fire department spokesman later told me no victim was
located. However, I don't know if it was a false report or too much time
elapsed and the "victim" was lost. I tend to think it was a
false report. It is a safe assumption, but I'm using it to make a point.
If the copter unit was still at Meigs the copter and rescue diver could
have been there to handle this call in six or seven minutes. When the
unit was moved from Meigs to 95th street inquiring reporters were told
this would add "only a couple of minutes" to response times.
The majesty of spring and glory of summer will soon bring millions to
the Pier, lakefront, harbors, beaches, lagoons, museum campus and other
treasures of Chicago's postcard lakefront. None of those people,
tourists or citizens was considered when the midnight madness at Meigs
Field was launched without a moments thinking about public safety.
Meigs Field should be restored to accommodate the Chicago Fire
Department Air-Sea Rescue Unit, or another location with minutes of Navy
pier should be found immediately. How many people cruise nightly on
those dinner boats? What are we waiting for?
NAVY HEADQUARTERED IN TRAILER PARK
two years ago Mayor Daley, then Gov. Ryan, and representatives of the
Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the US Coast Guard held a
very impressive news conference to announce the new joint Marine Safety
Station to be constructed just south of Navy Pier. The facility was to
occupy the space once used for the Randolph Street Coast Guard Station.
To quote Mayor Daley that September morn, "It's always gratifying
when the three levels of government can put jurisdictional concerns
aside and work together on behalf of all the people-not just the people
of Chicago, but people throughout Illinois and across the nation."
According the the Mayor's own news release the city, state and federal
government all committed two million dollars to the project. A spokesman
for the Coast Guard told me last fall the new facility should be done
late this summer. I was eagerly awaiting this six millior dollar joint
Chicago Marine Safety Station is still nothing but a blueprint. Not a
nail driven nor a paintbrush lifted. All promise, no action.
The Chicago Police Marine Unit now operating seven boats is
headquartered in two temporary trailers near what is supposed to become
their eventual home, if any of the promises are ever kept.
The new lakeside safety station was supposed to house units of the
police marine unit, the state conservation police and units of the Coast
Guard. Now at the start of a new boating season the Fire Department
Air-Sea rescue unit is almost in Indiana, and this new safety
headquarters next to Navy Pier has been forgotten.
to Mayor Daley's own news release 75% of Lake Michigan boating traffic
occurs near downtown Chicago.
Schwartz here again to inform you that the closest Coast Guard units
operate out of Wilmette Harbor and Calumet Harbor. If you're a boater in
distress, a swimmer in trouble, or some other water or lakeside problem
in need of solving from other than shore-side help, here's what we have
in the inventory:
SLOW FIRE BOAT
3 VERY GOOD RESCUE COPTERS/ DIVERS NEAR ILLINOIS-INDIANA LINE
SEVEN POLICE MARINE UNITS (DOING TONS OF WORK)
COAST GUARD HELICOPTER BASED IN WAUKEGAN
Do I dare
ask whatever happened to the six million dollars that was earmarked for
the Marine Safety Station? A veteran supervisor with the police marine
unit told me that not a day goes by when he and other officers don't
talk and worry about a mass casualty incident in the Navy Pier/downtown
lakefront area and our level of preparedness. The conversation rolled
right around to how far away the air rescue capability had been moved
because the fire department copters were closer to Northwest Indiana
than downtown Chicago.