Lifeguards heading to work at Evanston’s beaches and aquatic camps this summer should be able to use a radio system with better coverage up and down the lakefront, if city council approves a contract of just under $40,000 to upgrade the existing system. 

Evanston beach lifeguards receive training ahead of the 2022 summer season. Credit: Audrey Thompson

The city’s 911-Emergency Telephone System Board gave the contract its nod when it met Thursday, Jan. 26. The Administration and Public Works Committee will be the next stop, communications coordinator Christopher Voss said after the meeting. If it gets approved there, the contract will head to the council for final approval.

In order to improve the system’s signal coverage along the lakefront and out onto the water, Elmhurst-based Chicago Communications will install a signal repeater at Evanston’s water treatment plant.

The $39,487.67 contract includes:

  • $20,970 for 30 new radios,
  • $1,050 to program the radios,
  • $7,677.67 to install the repeater and connected equipment,
  • $3,040 for installation, and
  • $6,750 for five years of maintenance.

Lifeguards will be trained to use the improved multi-channel system and to work with fire department dispatchers when necessary, Fire Chief Paul Polep said Thursday. 

“They’re going to go to a full training academy, with continuing education on radios,” Polep said. “We’re bringing professionalism up on the lakefront.” 

He said the new system will allow lifeguards to communicate directly with fire department dispatchers in the event of a water-based emergency. It will be on both the fire department and public works frequencies, he added. When board member David Blatt asked if the new system would allow lifeguards to contact the Coast Guard in those situations, Polep said it wouldn’t.

“To be honest, we don’t want that. These are 16- to 20-year-old lifeguards,” he said. He added that, while they would be getting training, the department’s initial aim is to focus just on training them to communicate with Evanston dispatchers and the fire department.

Lifeguards, who had been the responsibility of the Parks and Recreation department, are now under the fire department’s purview. That change was announced last October.

At the time, Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson said her department wanted to focus on lakefront programming and events. Moving lifeguard training and oversight to the fire department would allow it to be responsible for public safety, she said. 

Voss said the goal would be to have the equipment in place and training undertaken as soon as possible, in order to be operational when the beaches open this summer.

On Thursday, telephone board members also got an update from staff on the status of the $678,627.44 fire department radio system infrastructure upgrade. City council authorized that contract with Schaumburg-based Motorola Solutions in October 2021.

The contractor still needs to complete installation of equipment near Ryan Field, but that work should be completed within the first quarter of this year, Voss said. 

Kathy Routliffe

Kathryn J. Routliffe has been a reporter covering the Chicago area’s North Shore and Northwest suburban communities for almost 40 years.

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