Milwaukee teen drowns in Lake Michigan, lifeguard shortage in the spotlight

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A teen girl from Milwaukee died Monday, May 23 after rescue crews pulled her from Lake Michigan near McKinley Marina.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office identified the victim as Hamdi Hassam. 

The girl was spotted 30-40 feet outside the breakwater at around 3:30. Rescue crews don't know how she got there. The water temperature is only in the upper 40s, dangerously cold.

The drowning comes as city and county officials warn there will be a shortage of lifeguards impacting area pools and beaches this summer.

A fire captain is concerned more water rescues will be necessary.

Captain Joel Rechlitz, Battalion Chief with the Milwaukee Fire Department, said, "Once the individual was placed on the fire boat trident, we began life saving measures."

Milwaukee fire boats were in the water just eight minutes after getting the 911 call. They located the girl two minutes later.

But life-saving measures proved unsuccessful, and she became the latest drowning victim. Captain Rechlitz said, "That's definitely a concern for us, because especially with Lake Michigan and the history here at McKinley, there are riptides."

As pools and beaches prepare to open, there is a critical shortage of lifeguards.

Despite vigorous recruiting efforts over the past six months, Milwaukee County Parks has hired just 60 lifeguards, far short of the 200 needed.

Monday afternoon a group of applicants started an express training session at Pulaski Pool.

Trainee Joseph McEvilly said, "My dad was a lifeguard, and I feel like following in his footsteps. He told me it's very serious. Encouraged me to come to a couple of these classes."

Due to the shortage, they’ll cram three weeks' worth of training into one week, with a final test Saturday.

Trainee Aiden Connors said, "I really want to help people, like in the medical industry. So I thought this could be my step up to see what it would be like when I'm older."

In June, five splash pads, nine wading pools, and four outdoor pools will open. But again this summer, no lifeguards will be posted at Bradford Beach.

Lifeguard trainee Areanna Walker said lifeguarding outdoors in Lake Michigan is much more challenging. "I commend people who are doing the outdoor lifeguarding, because that is a step up from this. They are doing way more intensive training than we are."

And the McKinley Park beach will remain closed while a study on rip currents continues.

Captain Rechlitz said, "People don't realize what riptides are, and how dangerous they are, and how once you get in that cycle you can drown pretty easy."

The Medical Examiner's office did not name the drowning victim but did say an autopsy would be performed Tuesday.

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