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June 1, 2011

Chicago beach closed due to calls for heat exhaustion

By Fran Spielman
Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO — Police did the right thing in closing a crowded North Avenue beach on Memorial Day after receiving a "tremendous amount" of calls about beach patrons suffering from heat exhaustion, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

Emanuel said he was not consulted before the Chicago Police Department's unprecedented decision to clear the beach. In fact, the mayor said he didn't find out about it until Tuesday morning.

But, the new mayor said, he believes it was the right decision to ensure Chicago Fire Department ambulances could gain access to the crowded beach and treat the victims.

"The police, in judgment with the paramedics, made a decision that, for the paramedics to do their job, the beach needed to be closed," Emanuel said. ". . . If they didn't take those steps, there would be a different set of questions here."

Emanuel said speculation that violence or gang trouble may have played a role in the decision to close the beach "was not shared with me."

Still, Emanuel said he has ordered a postmortem similar to the one he will be receiving this week about the Blizzard of 2011 fiasco that closed Lake Shore Drive. The report will try to determine, in part, the protocol for beach closings that in the past have happened only when there were dangerous levels of e-coli bacteria.

"We will do, as [we did] after the blizzard: What did we do right? What do we need to strengthen on?" Emanuel said. "But, as of today, the first piece of information I can tell, they took the right steps to ensure the safety of individuals at the beach showing, obviously, some physical signs."

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Police closed North Avenue Beach about 6 p.m., shortly after ambulances were summoned there to treat eight people, several of whom complained of heat-related illness.