Fire crews and police could only watch after a man waded into San Francisco Bay, stood up to his neck and waited. They wanted to do something, but a policy tied to earlier budget cuts strictly forbade them from trying to save the 50-year-old, officials said.
A witness finally pulled the apparently suicidal man’s lifeless body from the 54-degree water.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that the man, later identified as Raymond Zack, spent nearly an hour in the water before he drowned.
According to reports, first responders and about 75 people watched the incident on Monday from a beach in Alameda, a city of about 75,000 people across from San Francisco.
Interim Alameda Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi said that due to 2009 budget cuts his crews did not have the training or cold-water gear to go into the water.
“The incident yesterday was deeply regrettable,” he said Tuesday. “But I can also see it from our firefighters’ perspective. They’re standing there wanting to do something, but they are handcuffed by policy at that point.”
But Tuesday night, after hearing from angry residents at a City Council meeting, the city promised to spend up to $40,000 to certify 16 firefighters in land-based water rescues, KGO-TV reported.
The San Francisco Bay area is one of the largest urban agglomerations in the country. There was no team — not in Oakland, not in San Francisco, not in San Jose, not anywhere — with the requisite training and equipment to respond to this? I spent five minutes Googling and found plenty of evidence that Alameda County participates in a state-administered mutual aid system as part of Region II-South, which includes the entire Bay area. And here’s a 2006 Tactical Interoperability Communications Plan (TICP) for a large swath of the Bay Area including Alameda County — the sort of plan meant to ensure that appropriate resources can be dispatched to any emergency call within the area. Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that the 54-degree, neck-deep water was not so frigid or perilous that a witness could not wade in and retrieve the body (I don’t want to rehash the lengthy but fruitful debate here about whether a fire department in South Fulton, Tennessee had the moral duty to put out a house fire even though they were not legally bound to do so). Even if the Alameda firefighters were “handcuffed by policy,” they are not the only fire-rescue game in town. So don’t tell me “budget cuts” let this man kill himself. What the hell really happened here?