• Eva Jarad

Safety First: Boat Improves Chances of Rescuing Those Struggling in Lake Michigan

By Eva Jarad Lake Forest Love had a chance to connect with Fire Chief Pete Siebert to ask questions about the City’s rescue boat. A few years ago, a campaign to raise the money for the purchase of a Boston Whaler 280 was initiated. In 2020, the boat was delivered as a gift to the City from the Friends of Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Foundation.


What are you most looking forward to this year with the rescue boat? One of our biggest changes is housing it down at the boat basin. Right now, it takes a lot of time to drive it through town, especially with the boat being 28 feet and the trailer being almost 40 feet long.

"If we are facing a drowning emergency, every second counts," says Lake Forest Fire Chief Pete Siebert about the City's rescue boat. Having it down at the basin during the season where Lake Forest Sailing can have access to it allows them, if need be, to get the boat in the water before the Fire Department gets down there. Cutting off on response time by deploying the boat faster and more efficiently is going to be huge, because if we are facing a drowning emergency, every second counts. What are the main goals of the rescue boat? We are working towards getting systems on the boat where we can pull someone in and out of the water, but our main goals are getting down to the water quickly and upgrading our radar system. The boat currently has a lot of great GPS features and a sophisticated navigation screen, and we are looking to improve the radar systems to better navigate the lake in poor visibility conditions.

What type of rescue devices do you use? We have backboards on the boat that are similar to the models that we use on our ambulances, but the models on our rescue boat actually float. We also have your classic life ring and life vests as well as a rescue rope and rigging equipment to immobilize people and bring them onto the boat safely. What public safety needs are fulfilled by the rescue boat? The quicker we can deploy the boat, the better chances we have of successfully responding to a call. We probably get out about 20 times a year for water rescue calls; some of them are good-intention calls where someone in the water may look like they're struggling when they're not. For example we get lots of calls for kite surfers, but even if it’s a false call, we need that lead time to be able to assess the situation. When we go out on the lake, it's not only us going out there; it's usually Highland Park’s boat and maybe even the Coast Guard, so getting that leg up and getting out there quickly and deploying quickly can allow us to determine if the call is a true emergency or not. How will the boat add safety to Forest Park Beach during the busy summer months? The community members and boaters at the Lake Forest beach have been excited about the rescue boat improvements because they know that for years we’ve had a boat that was only 16 feet long and not suitable for Lake Michigan conditions, where we’ve actually put our own people in danger, which is something that we obviously want to actively avoid. With the improvements made to the boat, having that enhanced visibility -- alongside the extensive training thanks to our partnership with the Lake Forest Sailing -- our ability to provide safety for beach goers has increased. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from residents, mostly those who know the lake and are aware of the importance of having strong safety measures in place. How do you plan on making the boat more accessible with the offseason storage solution? We approached our friends over at the Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Department, and we came up with this plan to make it a joint boat with multipurpose usage. Initially, we were going to store it somewhere that does boat storage in the winter, but we get a lot of calls when the beach season is over, so having it at the Public Safety Building gives us flexibility to get it out in the water year-round. How has Lake Forest Sailing benefited from the rescue boat? The sailing club does a lot of classes for kids who are really young and having that big rescue boat out there when they host regattas is reassuring. If the conditions are rough, it’s important to have a large boat out there that can hold eight or nine people comfortably.