Evanston lakefront lifeguards to join the Fire Department under new proposal


Jorge Melendez/The Daily Northwestern

The Fire and the Parks and Recreation departments have been in talks about a change in lifeguard supervision since late summer, Lakefront Manager Tim Carter said.

Shannon Tyler, Assistant City Editor

Evanston lifeguards will likely operate under the purview of the Evanston Fire Department as of next summer. 

Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson announced in October the lifeguard program would move departments, pending city approval of a new Fire Department lifeguard supervisor position. 

The merging of the lifeguard program with the fire department has been a point of discussion since late summer, according to EFD Chief Paul Polep. 

“It’s going to be like a happy marriage working together to really enhance our lakefront operations with fire and lifeguards,” Polep said. 

Evanston is the first municipality in Illinois to move its lakefront program to the fire department, though many west coast cities like San Diego have established this pairing, according to Thompson. 

The change is one of many that has followed reports in summer 2021 of sexual harrassment and a hostile work environment among lakefront staff. Lakefront Manager Tim Carter said the supervision of the fire department will help create a better work environment and team of first responders at the lakefront. 

“The advantages of working with the fire department, and this is why I suggested it and pushed for this… is life safety,” Carter said. “They do life-saving (work) 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.” 

Recent summers have also hampered recruitment of new lifeguard staff, Carter said. However, he hopes the switch will provide more career-building opportunities for young lifeguards and therefore help with recruitment. 

Under the change, the fire department will hire a new supervisor to replace Carter as the direct supervisor of the lifeguards, with oversight of their training. The department proposed the new position to City Council as part of the lifeguard budget and is awaiting approval. 

Carter said the change will allow him and Thompson to focus more directly on the recreational programming side of the lakefront and leave the safety issues and training to the experts. 

The fire department also plans to create their own curriculum for their lifeguard certification. The lakefront management currently certifies the lifeguards through the United States Lifesaving Association, but the department plans to use the American Red Cross curriculum instead and include more Evanston lakefront-specific training, according to Thompson.

“We’re going to beef up that certification with the elements that make our lifeguards A-plus because they’re on open water,” Thompson said. “We’re going to have the current supervisors and lifeguards to really create this entire curriculum.” 

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Twitter: @shannonmtyler

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