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Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends police for closing beach on Memorial Day

Police clear out crowds close beach early North avenue.   Rumors were thhigh temperatures excessive capacity caused closing North

Police clear out the crowds and close the beach early at North avenue. Rumors were that high temperatures and excessive capacity caused the closing of North avenue and Oak Street beaches. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2011 3:48PM

Police did the right thing in closing a crowded North Avenue beach on Memorial Day after receiving a “tremendous amount” of calls about beach patrons suffering from heat exhaustion, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

Emanuel said he was not consulted before the Chicago Police Department’s unprecedented decision to clear the beach and send patrons back to, in some cases, homes without air-conditioning. In fact, the mayor said he didn’t find out about it until the morning after.

But, the new mayor said, he believes it was the right decision to ensure Chicago Fire Department ambulances could gain access to the crowded beach and treat the victims.

“You have a series of phone calls coming in from a single beach about heat. … It’s the first real hot day we’ve had. The police, in judgment with the paramedics, made a decision that, for the paramedics to do their job, the beach needed to be closed. … If they didn’t have those phone calls, the beach would have stayed open,” Emanuel said.

“If they didn’t take those steps, there would be a different set of questions here — a whole set of other questions. ... There was an abundance of those phone calls from one beach. … They made the appropriate professional judgment.”

Emanuel said speculation that violence or gang trouble may have played a role in the decision to close the beach “was not shared with me.”

Still, Emanuel said he has ordered a post-mortem similar to the one he will be receiving this week about the Blizzard of 2011 fiasco that closed Lake Shore Drive.

The report will try to determine, in part, the protocol for beach closings that in past have happened only when there were dangerous levels of e-coli bacteria.

“We will do, as [we did] after the blizzard: What did we do right? What do we need to strengthen on? And we’ll have an after-action report,” Emanuel said.

“But, as of today, the first piece of information I can tell, they took the right steps to ensure the safety of individuals at the beach showing, obviously, some physical signs.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that police closed North Avenue Beach at around 6 p.m., shortly after ambulances were summoned there to treat eight people, several of whom complained of heat-related illness. They reportedly “started falling down” and complained of being “light-headed,” according to Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

Firefighters responded and treated four beachgoers at the scene before taking four others to area hospitals. One of the victims was an 18-year-old who was “found unresponsive” and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Lifeguards stood on their elevated chairs as announcements came over the loudspeakers, urging swimmers to “exit the water” because “North Avenue Beach is closed and swimming is no longer allowed.”

Chicago police officers on foot and one officer on horseback moved through the crowd asking stragglers to leave. By 7:30 p.m., the beach was empty.

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