Chicago’s Air & Sea Rescue team

On a recent Monday morning, the Chicago Fire Department received an emergency call about a person in Lake Michigan near 95th Street. The dispatcher immediately notified Engine Company 13, at 259 N. Columbus Dr., where the Air and Sea Rescue Team is located.

The divers began pulling on thermal protection layers, Viking dry suits, boots, fins and helmets before the truck even rolled out of the station. They secured one another’s air tanks and emergency air tanks as it sped towards the scene. Mastering this procedure is the first of many required to be a CFD Public Safety Diver.

“They do a test when they’re going through the first week of training called rapid deployment dressing,” says Ron Dorneker, Deputy Chief of Marine and Dive Operations. “They have to go from being in their uniforms to being fully suited divers in less than four minutes.”

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Charles Irey of the Air & Sea Rescue team

Every water-related emergency in Chicago — and, when requested, from the far northern suburbs to Indiana — is dispatched to Marine Headquarters at Chicago’s Engine Company 13. Besides housing a supervisor and three divers every day of the year, it also houses a vehicle loaded with two inflatable boats, four integrated scuba outfits and enough specialized equipment to complete rescues in virtually any water-related environment regardless of weather.

The entire Air and Sea Rescue Team consists of 140 to 160 divers, all of whom spent five years as sworn firefighters and demonstrated basic diving and swimming skills before applying. They respond to roughly 250 emergencies every year.

As the truck carried four of them to the incident at 95th, a Bell 412 helicopter powered up at the Chicago Fire Department’s Heliport near Calumet Park along the lakefront. Equipped with a high definition “FLIR” camera that can see over a mile in darkness, the chopper is capable of uploading footage of the situation to the Chicago 9-1-1 center, where call-takers, dispatchers and executives can review and respond accordingly.

“It’s a great helicopter that’s built for search and rescue,” says Dorneker.

It also transported two additional divers to the emergency. Like their counterparts traveling from Engine Company 13, these rescuers stuck with the Air & Sea training program even after enduring the first week, which according to Dorneker, “really weeds people out.”

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A map of the team’s rescue efforts

“It’s a little over a 40-hour week in a swimming pool and out in the lake and the river,” he explains. “From that point, it takes about three years to get to where they’re a true public safety diver trained for water rescue for the city of Chicago.” Upon achieving that honor, the fully-fledged divers can look forward to more training exercises every day.

“It never ends,” says Dorneker. “Last year we logged over three thousand hours.”

During the winter, he and the team use a special chain saw to cut holes in the Lake Michigan ice so that they can explore the waters underneath and “learn our true ability.” Besides navigating currents that Dorneker describes as “unforgiving,” the divers also perfect their means of communication, both hard-wired and wireless.

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Gratitude for the team

“The ice presents an overhead environment, which is dangerous to us,” he explains. “If something goes kaput and your breathing system fails, you need to go back to the hole that you went in to get out. We have contingency plans that we use — whether it’s the redundant air supply or the Rapid Intervention Team — to rescue the diver in distress.”

While the truck and the chopper approached the emergency at 95th over land and in the air, the department’s 92-foot fireboat, Engine 2, raced towards it from a dock near Navy Pier. Upon arriving, they joined the fire fighters from Engine Company 74, the Firehouse nearest to the incident, who also had been activated as part of the protocol for water-related emergencies.

“It’s a standardized response from the Fire Department that gets 41 fire fighters and paramedics on the scene of these incidents,” explains Dorneker. “Engines, Trucks, battalion chiefs, special operations chiefs, helicopters, boats… It’s a big group.”

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Members of the Air & Sea Rescue team

Fortunately, very few of the life-saving resources were necessary on the morning of March 18. Engine Company 74 was able to pull the victim out of the lake before anyone else arrived. Since every member of the Department is trained as a first responder to water incidents, they were equipped with floatation devices, ring buoys, throw bags, and the knowledge to use them.

“People do not join the Fire Department to go on their water rescue team,” Dorneker says. “People join the fire department to become firefighters. But if somebody’s in distress in the water, they can make a quick attempt for a surface rescue before the dive team even gets on the scene.”

Chicago firefighters can train in several categories including auto extraction, hazardous material fires, airport fires and high-rise fire fighting, which is Engine Company 13’s specialty.

Many of the men and women who join Air & Sea Rescue come from obvious places like the Navy, but Dorneker enthusiastically explains that there are also plenty “who showed the willingness to train and learn.”

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Deputy Ron Dorneker

Dorneker himself seems to have followed the path of a natural born water rescuer. His career in public safety diving began when he was a 15-year-old camp counselor at Owasippe Scout Reservation in Twin Lake, Michigan. “They used to pay extra money to bring my scuba gear to camp with me,” he remembers. He worked as a lifeguard for the Chicago Park District, the Sheriff of Galveston, Texas, and the Chicago Police Force before joining the Chicago Fire Department in 1988.

“I’m very passionate about the water,” he says. “I love the water and I like going out there, too. I’m just smart enough to know to stay far enough away so I don’t get myself caught up in the waves or out on the ice.”

— Dan Patton | Staff Writer

A Ship’s tale — Columbia Yacht Club’s “Abegweit”

The majestic Abegweit floats peacefully on Lake Michigan between DuSable and Monroe Harbors, where she has been permanently docked since 1983. The former icebreaker was named after the Mi’kmaq word for Prince Edward Island meaning “cradled on the waves.” The Abegweit originally served as a transport for trains and cars on the east coast of Canada between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick for nearly 40 years. Today, she has a new role: home of the Columbia Yacht Club.

The club’s entrance leads directly into the ship’s cargo hold, which used to store train cars until it was repurposed for the club’s sailing program. The second level was once a car deck but now accommodates outdoor dining and event space. The rest of the ship showcases pristine American chestnut walls and doors and brass fixtures, which are polished daily.

ABE00003Columbia Yacht Club General Manager Nick Philip describes the club as having a “neighborhood-joint feel near great buildings.” It’s a place to read or drink a beer, with a stunning view of the entire skyline. It’s almost as if you are on a floating island. According to Philip, the club is widely known for philanthropy. They host 56 fundraising events a year, several of which support the Leukemia Cup Regatta Series.

Besides abundant invitations to club events, member benefits also include access to the ship at all times, dining privileges, and use of the club’s meeting rooms and party facilities. And you don’t need to own a boat to join. Non-members can rent boats and stand-up paddleboards and participate in the club’s sailing school programs, most of which start in May and go through November.

“We want to make sailing accessible to the neighborhood,” Philip explains.

Kids as young as five can enroll in the “Shark Bait” summer camp program, which Philip says is the perfect way for kids to “get their toes wet” and build confidence on the water while having fun.

Older kids have the chance to learn racing techniques and can join the premiere racing team to compete at local, regional and national events.

Adults can participate in the Skipjacks Program, which Philip says is their most notable program. There are also several boating certification opportunities. More information including scheduling, pricing and registration visit www.columbiayachtclub.org.

— Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

Chicago Cultural Mile Association already thinking Halloween

In March, the Chicago Cultural Mile Association hosted a meeting at the Studebaker Theater to discuss its annual Halloween Gathering at Millennium Park, which doesn’t happen until October.

Although it may have seemed “a little bit early to be thinking about Halloween in some peoples’ minds,” as CCMA Producer Allison Gerlach explained, the organization sets the bar pretty high and wide.

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CCMA Producer Allison Gerlach and fire-breather Bryan Small

The inaugural Gathering last year attracted roughly 200,000 people and included fire-breathing artists, humongous puppetry and a convoy of customized lowrider vehicles. Continuing that kind of success not only requires extensive preparation, but also forms a key component of the event’s mission.

“This is a curated procession of the Chicago cultural community,” explains Executive Director Sharene Shariatzadeh. “There really is nothing like it.”

Shariatzadeh and her staff are responsible for promoting the stretch of Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Roosevelt Road and east to Lake Michigan. She considers the area to be “the face of Chicago” with “some of the most celebrated cultural institutions in the world.”

“Our goal is that people will literally hop off a plane, get in a cab, and say, ‘take me to the Cultural Mile,’” she explains.

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CCMA Artistic Director Mark Kelly and Executive Director Sharene Shariatzadeh

By combining the city’s rich ethnic communities and a legion of local artists and performers, the Halloween Gathering is an essential way to make this happen.

It begins with a kid-friendly workshop and ends with an everyone-friendly parade. Along the way, institutions like the Field Museum and the Trinity Dancers celebrate Chicago’s creative harvest with the people who helped bring it to life.

It also requires a lot of work. The meeting provided a forum for this year’s participants to describe their projects and find partners in creativity.

Artist Heather Killian, who creates “weird puppets and animals that are giant,” said she is “planning on doing more animals, something like the beast within.”

Professional fire-breather Bryan Small, who noted that “Chicago loosened up a bit on the regulations” over the past year, said he hopes to build a float topped with go-go dancers and “some very large flame effects.”

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Lowrider jefe Jorge Ortega

Lowrider artist Jorge Ortega, who is also director of Chicago’s Columbian Festival, reported that the video of his car club’s Columbian-themed Marimonda Movil de Chicago cruising through the 2015 parade has scored nearly a quarter million online views.

It has also generated substantial buzz by showcasing the event’s commitment to children. “We should get more participation because kids were involved,” he explains.

This is one of the celebration’s running themes. According to Artistic Director Mark Kelly, who is also Columbia College’s Vice President for Student Success, the morning agenda is “a giant maker session” where children discover that “creative paths are honorable paths.” The afternoon is an all-ages celebration of Halloween as an “Artist’s Holiday.”

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George Berlin wielding his glowing moon scepter.

“It’s that moment of masks and costumes, of taking on new personas,” he explains “Much like carnival, there is not a separation of audience and the contingents that are marching.”

Then he lifted a lamp stand that had been retrofitted, customized and modified into a glowing moon scepter. “I’ve never carried a staff in my life,” he mused. “This was created by George Berlin for last year’s Gathering.”

 

— Dan Patton, Staff Writer

Dos and dont’s: using binoculars in your condominium

I have heard from many of our fellow New Eastsiders that, in fact, one of their first purchases as condo owners was a good strong pair of binoculars.

Additionally, more than a few have mentioned that the item was among the very first housewarming gifts people gave to them.

Some even have telescopes pointing out their windows.  Do you really believe them when they say it’s just for looking out at the stars?

DO

  • Get a strong pair. The higher up the stronger needed.
  • BINOC002webTake in the sights that the New Eastside has to offer, like the Chicago River
  • Use the binoculars to spot boats and other craft on our beautiful lakefront
  • Look up at the sky and catch the moon, the stars, and of course the fireworks show.
  • Use the binoculars to spot suspicious activity (be the friendly neighborhood watch person)

DON’T

  • Stare out the window with them when you have company over
  • Focus on the only lighted window across the river (you know, that guy)
  • Stare directly down on the beachfront for “interesting persons“
  • Look into nighttime windows for other kinds of fireworks
  • Stare into any of the rooftop pools (Not the kind of “friendly neighborhood watch“ we’re talking about)

— Jon Cohn, Community Contributor

The year Lake Shore East got “Transformed”

Recently while passing the Blue Cross Building on Randolph, I noticed the block was covered in artificial snow for a film shoot. Two thoughts crossed my mind. First, I found it humorous that a film being shot in Chicago in winter would need fake snow – that was likely an unexpected expense, compliments of Mother Nature. Second, I was reminded of the bizarre summer of 2011, when the Transformers movie franchise turned the neighborhood into a Hollywood backlot.

EXPLODE1web2My first taste of that summer was the Michigan Ave. Bridge. I was walking to work along Wacker Dr. when I noticed that the bridge was partially raised. The front of a car dangled precariously from its edge. Past Michigan, Wacker had been turned into a warzone – upturned cars, rubble and charred debris. It brought a smile to my face, the thought that the city could warp itself around the world of make believe. For weeks, people like me walked through this alternate dimension enroute to more mundane pursuits.

One evening, on my way home, a giant fireball plumed up from the Hotel Monaco. On another day, a large crowd gathered to watch stuntmen BASE jump off the Trump building. And on one special morning, I watched men parachute into Lakeshore East Park, pack up, then do it again. I was standing on the pool deck of the Shoreham, and all around Lakeshore East, I could see people on their balconies, excitedly taking in the spectacle. It occurred to me that any camera angle featuring one of the buildings would be unusable due to the number of onlookers.

One night as I phoned my fiancée, who lived in South Carolina at the time, a helicopter flew low over the river and a series of massive explosions cascaded along the shoreline. I gasped. My fiancée asked what was wrong. After picking my jaw up from the floor, I said, “Either they’re filming a scene from Transformers III, or I should get to the basement via the stairs.”

I was too lazy to use the stairs. Lucky for me, Transformer Director Michael Bay was still in town.

— Matthew Reiss, Community Contributor

The Bridgehouse in the City That Works

The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum may appear tiny compared to the nearby high-rises at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, but the 95 year-old structure extends five-stories down to the river and contains one of Chicago’s most powerful engineering feats.

Located in the southwestern tender house of the DuSable Bridge (formerly called the Michigan Avenue Bridge), the museum contains the steel gears connected to the 1,500-ton counterweight that lifts the 3,400-ton bridge leaf — literally half of Michigan Avenue spanning the river — into the air.

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Museum Director Joanne So Young Dill.

The humongous mechanism not only helped make Chicago’s movable bridges famous around the world, but it also still works. Every May and October, the bridge rises to allow tall ships to pass through. Visitors can see the action for a special admission price during these times, and the machinery is viewable nearly every other day that the museum is open.

Additional attractions include portal windows that offer sweeping views of the Chicago River and grand staircases of the structure’s meticulous interior.

Founded in 2006 by Friends of the Chicago River, the museum is dedicated to being a “cultural anchor of the new Chicago Riverwalk” that celebrates the “dynamic relationship between Chicago and its river.”

“We invite tourists and groups to come and learn about the Chicago River and how it shaped Chicago,” says Joanne So Young Dill, the Museum Director.

The museum also hosts an occasional event, like the “Holiday Pop-up Shop” that filled the place with t-shirts, artists and vendors last December.

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Streetwise Exec Director Julie Youngquist and vendor Mr Roberts work the “Give a Sh*rt” event at the McCormick Bridghouse

Co-sponsored by Chicago production firm Daily Planet and StreetWise Magazine, the outdoor clothing bizarre was officially called “Give a Shi*t.” Volunteers worked nearly twelve hours selling t-shirts designed by local artists to help raise funds for StreetWise.

Julie Youngquist, StreetWise Executive Director, was “blown away” by the effort. “It was perfect for our pop-up store,” she said.

The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum opens for the 2016 season on May 14. Until then, passersby can enjoy the Henry Hering sculpture that adorns the exterior southern-facing wall.

Titled, “Defense,” it commemorates the Potawatomi victory at The Battle of Fort Dearborn.

376 N. Michigan Ave. · (312) 977-0227 · www.bridgehousemuseum.org

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

2016 state of the parks report

The Bloch Cancer Survivors Garden celebrates perseverance, Maggie Daley Park is just getting started, Millennium Park is sending people over the top and Grant Park may change the way we think about health care. New Eastside News presents the past, present, and future of our neighborhood greens in a special 2016 state of the parks report.

Pictured: Ron Sison from Manilla, Karlo Fel from Sacramento, and Jem Urmatan from Cleveland strike an item off their Windy City vacation bucket list on an unseasonably warm February afternoon at Millennium Park. “If you come to Chicago, you have to see the Bean,” explains Fel. Photo: Daniel Patton.

Green and seen in the New Eastside

The color of spring abounds in the neighborhood.

With Saint Patrick’s Day approaching, most of us like to celebrate “The luck of the Irish” and don green hues. Although it may be difficult to locate anything green-colored in the cold, dark New Eastside winter, our newsletter always likes a good challenge. It was tough, but here is a list of some of the “green we have seen”:

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  • Some of the “ bumps” on the climbing wall at Lake Shore Fitness Club
  • Artificial grass surface outside the 175 Harbor Drive building
  • Award-winning portable johns at Maggie Daley skating rink
  • Giant-sized basket swings just west of the main playground at Maggie Daley Park
  • Argo University sign above Sweetwater’s
  • Upper half of the Chicago Trolley Car
  • A neon green headband of a jogger on Columbus Drive
  • Chairs and a bench outside at Brown Bag Restaurant

You may have to look extra hard, but even in the winter, there is plenty of “green to be seen.”

— Jon Cohn, Community Contributor

What’s new at the Radisson Blu

The Radisson Blu Aqua hotel hosted a resident appreciation reception on February 22, from 6 – 8 p.m., giving New Eastside neighbors the opportunity to mingle, meet, and sample some of the hotel’s new offerings.

Held in the lobby and gallery areas, the event featured culinary demos by Chef Carolina, small bites from Filini bar’s menu, and samples of two new in-house crafted cocktails for spring 2016 — the New Eastside and French Paloma. DJ Stix kept the mood lively, spinning a mix of dance music and Latin jazz.

IMG_2468cA table set for tea, in a corner of the lobby near the elevators, served as a sneak preview. Roman Suhs, Business Development Coordinator at the Radisson Blu Aqua, said that the hotel will soon be offering tea service. According to Suhs, the release date “will likely be sometime this spring.” Plans call for tea to be served Friday through Sunday, with a “TJ” playing music. Reservations are required. “It’s our own take on the tradition of tea with a modern twist,” says Suhs.

New Eastsiders also had the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of this hotel right in their backyard; specifically, meeting and event space rentals and the “Art of Blu” free mobile app, previously reported in this publication, that allows guests to experience a curated, self-guided tour through the lobby and permanent art gallery. Departing guests could leave with sweet treats — bags of custom-mixed blue jelly beans — bearing tags reminding residents that special neighborhood hotel rates are available and to “Book at Blu!” whenever extra rooms are needed.

— Shanti Nagarkatti | Community Contributor

Centennial Fountain, the first sign of spring

As a resident of the Shoreham, my apartment window faces the Chicago River and, during the warmer months, I enjoy watching the Centennial Fountain arc majestically across the river. It is my personal giant water clock. Since the fountain only operates during the first ten minutes of each hour, I keep track of my day by noting when it showers upon unfortunate tour boats.

For some people, the first sign of winter is the first freeze, or the first snowfall. For me, it’s the first day I wake up, gaze out expectantly, and realize the fountain has been silenced for the next six months. I miss my water clock during this time. It is like a good friend who has moved away. I do not celebrate the arrival of summer when the geese reappear or the flowers bloom, but when the mighty swoosh of the Centennial Fountain returns.

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Centennial Fountain. Photo by ChicagoArchitecture.org.

My fondest memory of the fountain involves kayaking back in the days when the closest kayak rental was at the North Avenue Bridge. A friend and I decided to paddle to Navy Pier, a three-hour round trip. As we approached the mouth of the river, I looked back at the clock on the Wrigley Building and saw that we were seconds away from the top of the hour, meaning that we were about to get drenched by the Centennial Fountain. Rather than wait, we decided to go for it.

Imagining a 90-minute return journey in clothes soaked by river water, I paddled more vigorously than ever before. I felt like Indiana Jones racing against a sliding door trap, except I wore a baseball cap rather than a fedora.

We made it by mere seconds. The fountain roared to life as we passed by it, cinematically sealing off the route behind us. We laughed and raised our paddles in victory.

Then we paddled back under the fountain to get doused. After all, we’d won, and when would we get another chance to paddle under a fountain?

— Matthew Reiss, Community Contributor

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