Interview: City of Alameda Fire Chief on Why Personnel Didn’t Attempt Rescue of Drowning Man
Update Jun 2: We’ve culled some the responses to this post and posted them here.
Update 4:05 p.m. Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore said the city will conduct an investigation into the incident, the Contra Costa Times reports.
The suicide drowning death of a man on Robert Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda while members of the City of Alameda fire and police departments watched, declining any rescue attempt, is being reported nationally and as far away as the U.K.. (Here’s AP’s video report.)
Alameda officers and firefighters also remained on land after 52-year-old Raymond Zack had drowned, leaving it to a civilian to wade into the Bay to retrieve his body.
Yesterday, KQED News intern Katrina Schwartz interviewed Alameda Interim Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi, asking him why no police or fire personnel attempted a rescue.
D’Orazi made the following points:
- A change to fire department policy in 2009 prohibited personnel from performing water rescues.
- The department previously was highly trained in water rescue but over the course of several years, due to budget cuts, the program was decertified.
- The police decided a rescue attempt was not safe because the man in the water “could have been armed, could have had a weapon. That was what was discussed.”
- The chief has “already directed our staff to change our policy in which we will give our incident commander more discretion to utilize personnel and equipment based on circumstances.” He has also ordered the department’s training division to “re-implement our rescue swimmer training so that we can have rescue swimmers available on every shift….”
- D’Orazi said that while some fire personnel on scene may have had training enough in the past to effect a rescue, “it’s been a couple of years since that program has really gotten the attention it deserves.” Plus, he reiterated, policy dictated that no water rescue attempt be made.
A Coast Guard boat and helicopter were also on the scene. Katrina Schwartz interviewed Coast Guard spokesman Marcus Brown, who said that when the Guard was notified of the incident, it launched a small boat, which couldn’t get close enough because of the shallow depths the swimmer was in. A helicopter was also launched, Brown said, but by the time it hovered over the scene, another swimmer was bringing the man — who was deceased at that point — onto shore.
A couple of non-plussed witnesses to the event are interviewed in this KGO video:
As a side note, the Alameda County Fire Department has been tweeting that it wasn’t involved in the non-rescue. Apparently, media organizations have been confusing Alameda County with the city of the same name.
- Alameda: City reviews emergency response after drowning (Bay Area News Group)
- Alameda Public Safety Agencies Respond to Beach Death (Alameda Patch)