No winter break for the marine unit in Chicago

by Doug Rapp

In the summertime, you see police boats and helicopters cruising the shoreline. But during the winter, although the lakefront is desolate—save for a few hardy joggers—it doesn’t mean the marine unit isn’t working.

“During the winter, we still see a fair amount of activity on the lake as the marine unit is still responsible for various Homeland Security checks, lakefront and river patrols and emergency rescues of individuals that may fall in or be discovered in the lake,” said Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer with the Chicago Police Department.

“It’s also when the officers within the unit complete much of their mandated departmental training,” he said.

Sgt. Eddie Beltran, training and dive coordinator for the marine unit, said winter can be just as busy as summer. 

People end up in the water “all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t change because of the weather.”

Beltran cited a recent incident when a park district salt truck slid into the lake near Oak Street beach. The two employees escaped the truck before it submerged, according to ABC7 Chicago, and the marine unit helped recover the vehicle.

Beltran said the group also does ice training in the winter to simulate rescues when the lake and river are frozen. 

“It’s different with the ice.” he said. “We always tell people there’s no such thing as safe ice. People walk out on the ice and it’s possible they could fall through and get themselves in trouble.”

A 12-year veteran of the marine unit, Beltran said all officers are certified divers and their equipment is able to handle the brutal Chicago winters. They wear “drysuits,” which are completely waterproof, along with full face masks. 

“It protects us from contaminants but also protects us from exposure,” Beltran said. “It’s pretty good in the winter…we’re completely encapsulated.” 

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