All piers and access points along Lake Michigan will be required to have safety equipment such as life rings available under a measure Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Thursday that was prompted by a teen’s drowning in Rogers Park last summer.
The Lake Michigan Rescue Equipment Act requires those locations that provide direct public access to the water, whether publicly or privately owned, to at a minimum install an easily accessible flotation device, such as a life preserver. The act, effective in one year, also requires local governments to post warning signs in high-risk areas and standardize how they report drownings to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, introduced the bill in October, less than two months after 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros drowned after jumping off Pratt Pier in the Rogers Park neighborhood for a swim. There was no life preserver on the pier.
“The stories of recent drownings on Lake Michigan are both tragic and preventable,” Pritzker said in a statement. “This law will protect countless families from experiencing those same terrible losses and ensure a safer Lake Michigan for the thousands of Illinoisans who enjoy it every year.”
In the weeks following Cisneros’ death, Rogers Park residents urged the Chicago Park District to put life preservers on Lake Michigan piers. The community even put flotation devices there themselves but said they were removed by the Park District at least three times.
Ahead of the opening of beach season last weekend, the Park District installed 115 life rings along the lakefront, a spokesperson for the agency confirmed. The district told the Tribune it pledged to do so in March, when both chambers of the General Assembly passed the bill without opposition.
The death of Cisneros, who lived in Brighton Park and was set to begin his sophomore year at Columbia University, was the impetus for the bill, though his drowning in Lake Michigan was not an isolated occurrence.
In 2020, water safety advocacy group the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project recorded 56 drownings along the lakefront. And in 2018, West Ridge resident Halle Quezada Rasmussen became a water safety advocate after watching a 13-year-old drown in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
“In 2018 on a Chicago beach we frantically searched for something that could float while helplessly watching a child fatally submerge and witnessing several would-be rescuers turn into victims needing rescuing themselves,” Rasmussen said in a statement Thursday. “This weekend, I stood in front of a life ring at that same spot and whispered to the 13-year girl we lost, ‘This is for you.’
“Of course, it is too late for her and I will never stop wishing this could bring her back, but her legacy will live in this law, ensuring that when the unthinkable unfolds, we will have a fighting chance at survival,” Rasmussen said.