Chicago Lifeguard Service

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The Chicago Lifeguard Service, or the Chicago Park District Beaches and Pools Unit employs over 1000 Lifeguards during the summer months and 200 during the winter to protect the lives of Patrons at its 24 Beaches on Lake Michigan as well as dozens of indoor and outdoor pools at city parks and public highschools. The Service is the largest municipal lifeguard force in the world and is regularly observed by representatives from Japan, Australia, Ireland, Germany, California, Florida and other locales. The Service also covers more waterfront than any other individual lifeguard force in the world; Chicago beaches cover over 26 miles of the lakefront.


The Chicago Park District was created in 1934[1] by the Illinois Legislature under the Park Consolidation Act. By provisions of that act, the Chicago Park District consolidated and superseded the then-existing 22 separate park districts in Chicago,[2] the largest three of which were the Lincoln Park, West Park, and South Park Districts, all of which had been established in 1869.[3]

Prior to the 1934 consolidation, there were separate lifeguard forces for most of the individual park districts in Chicago. Even after the consolidation, there were some lakefronts and pools operated independently by the City of Chicago itself which maintained a separate lifeguard service for city lakefronts and pools.

In 1959, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District entered into an agreement whereby all of the City-owned lakefronts and pools would be transferred to the Chicago Park District. During the consolidation efforts, several far-sighted lifeguard supervisors, including George V. Iverson, Tom O'Brien and Joseph Mansfield, began to lay the foundation of what would become the Chicago Park District Lifeguard Service, successfully merging the City of Chicago Lifeguard Service with the Chicago Park District Lifeguard Patrol. Further contributions to the Lifeguard Service were made by Sam Leone who founded the first ever Junior Lifeguard program which was adopted by the United States Lifesaving Association.

Joseph A. Pecoraro[edit]

In 1949, he took a summer job as a lifeguard at North Avenue Beach on Lake Michigan[4] and never left except for a two-year stint in the U.S. Army Field Artillery (where he taught swimming to the First Cavalry Division in Tokyo). Mr. Pecoraro spent much of his service at North Avenue Beach.

In 1974, he became manager for all of Chicago’s beaches and pools, overseeing swimming instruction, scuba instruction, lifeguard recruitment and training. He was president of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) (1983–1991) and continues on its Board of Directors. He travels to public health and safety conferences and among other organizations is a member of Lifesaving Associations of the United States, Ireland, Australia, Germany and F.I.S. (Federational International au Sauvetage). He has authored Chicago’s “Lifeguard Pamphlet” and “Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Pamphlet”.

He is viewed by many current guards to be a role model. Recently Mr. Pecoraro wrote a book detailing his time in the Service, "Naked Rescue".

The Service Now[edit]

Today's Lifeguard Service is run under the Supervision of Mr. Eric Fischer who took over after Janet McDonough retired in 2011. Janet McDonough took over from Mr. Jamie Anderson in 2005.

Chicago Park District lifeguardings undergo hours of specialized training in Water Rescue, CPR, AED Administration, Oxygen Administration, Spinal Injuries, and First Aid. The training is a combination of American Red Cross and Chicago Park District standards. Each guard must be certified each and every year to continue working for the Chicago Park District.