‘Swim at your own risk’

Lifeguard shortage reported in western Kenosha County

By Jason Arndt

Along Lake Michigan in the City of Racine, authorities have seen two fatal drownings in recent weeks, and Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling urged the city to take action.

Schmaling, in a news conference on June 22, called on officials to extend lifeguard hours on North Beach, increase lifeguard staffing and include more signs warning visitors to exercise caution.

“Any time we have children that die in our community it really rocks the emotions of all of us, especially when they’re senseless deaths that could have been prevented,” Schmaling said.

The senseless deaths happened on Father’s Day weekend, when emergency responders pulled Eisha Figuero Colon, 10, of Racine County, and Yaadwinder Singh, 17, Milwaukee County, from the waters of Lake Michigan.

Two others have been rescued, including one person who was left in critical condition, according to Racine County officials.

Since publication, a 14-year-old died at a regional hospital.

“I encourage the public to enjoy the beaches of Racine County during this wonderful summer weather, however, people need to be smart and be safe,” Schmaling said in a news release. “It appears that recently Lake Michigan has had some extraordinarily strong currents that are pulling swimmers into life-threatening situations.”

But what about beaches in Western Racine and Kenosha counties?

Mark Schaaf, Racine County spokesman, said Browns Lake in the Town of Burlington is the lone body of water under county oversight.

“Racine County posts three lifeguards on Browns Lake. If there are fewer than three lifeguards available, we keep a lifeguard on site, but signs are clearly posted as ‘swim at your own risk, no lifeguards on duty,” Schaaf said.

Outside of Browns Lake, according to Schaaf, Racine County does not have established swimming areas on the west end of the county.

Schaaf said there is a county park next to Eagle Lake, which residents and visitors can use for swimming, but there isn’t a designated beach area.

“There are other county parks adjacent to or near bodies of waters, just no designated swimming areas like what you see at Browns Lake.”

Recruitment concerns
Racine and Kenosha county officials each reported some difficulty with recruiting lifeguards in recent years.

“Like with other municipalities in the area, it’s been a big challenge recruiting and staffing lifeguards for the last several summers,” Schaaf said.

In Kenosha County, officials said the parks department only has jurisdiction on Silver Lake Beach in Salem Lakes as well as Old Settlers Park in Paddock Lake.

Matthew Collins, Parks Director, reported both beaches have not had any lifeguards on duty because of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as difficulty in recruiting.

“Both of these beaches are now swim at your own risk, with anyone who decides to swim urged to use caution,” Collins said. “In past years, Silver Lake Park Beach was staffed with lifeguards, but the combination of COVID-19 and difficulty with recruiting seasonal staff has led us to go without lifeguards this year.”

Distinct differences
Unlike Lake Michigan, where currents can overpower some swimmers, bodies of water in western Racine and Kenosha counties carry distinct differences.

Differences include rip currents, strong undertows and significant wave action, all of which does not occur on inland lakes, Schaaf said.

“However, people should be sure to take all precautions no matter what body of water they are in and keep close watch over younger children who may have difficulty swimming,” Schaaf said. “If there is ever a doubt about water, people should avoid going into the water, or wear an approved personal flotation device when in the water.”

Schaaf, meanwhile, reiterated a statement from Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave encouraging residents and visitors to take advantage of safer alternatives.

Delagrave said at a June 22 news conference safe alternatives include the Burlington Community Aquatic Center as well as SC Johnson Community Aquatic at Racine’s Pritchard Park. He said both facilities offer a safe place for families to swim in a more controlled environment.

That includes additional safeguards such as more lifeguard coverage and supervision.