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msnbc : 'Handcuffed by policy': Fire crews watch man die


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http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43233984/ns/us_news-life/

'Handcuffed by policy': Fire crews watch man die

City policy changed after budget cuts cited as reason rescuers couldn't act

msnbc.com staff and news service reports

SAN FRANCISCO — 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.

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.Witnesses included Amy Gahran, a reporter who photographed the scene from the beach for Oakland Local.

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.

"This just strikes me as not just a problem with funding, but a problem with the culture of what's going on in our city, that no one would take the time and help this drowning man," KGO quoted resident Adam Gillitt as saying.

A witness, Perry Smith, said Zack was visible from the shore of Crown Memorial State Beach and was looking at people.

"We expected to see at some point that there would be a concern for him," another witness, Gary Barlow, told KGO.

Witness Sharon Brunetti told the Mercury News that Zack's stepmother stopped her on the beach and asked her to call 911, saying he was threatening to take his own life.

Zack "gradually inched out farther and farther" from the shore but occasionally glanced back over his shoulder at the beach, Brunetti said.

"The next thing he was floating face down," the Mercury News quoted her as saying.

Too shallow for boat

The Coast Guard was called to the scene, but the water was too shallow for its boat. A Coast Guard helicopter arrived more than an hour later because it had been on another call and had to refuel.

As for police, they didn't have the gear for the cold water and couldn't risk being pulled under.

"Certainly this was tragic, but police officers are tasked with ensuring public safety, including the safety of personnel who are sent to try to resolve these kinds of situations," Alameda police Lt. Sean Lynch said.

"He was engaged in a deliberate act of taking his own life," Lynch told the Mercury News. "We did not know whether he was violent, whether drugs were involved. It's not a situation of a typical rescue."

There are no lifeguards at the beach, said Isa Polt-Jones, a spokeswoman with the East Bay Regional Park District. Signs at the park advise swimmers to enter the water at their own risk.

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If it was too shallow for a boat, and shallow enough for the man to wade out there, why the heck can't any of the 75 people watching, wade out there ?

I guess the message the government is sending is :"If you want to try to drown yourself, and wish for someone to attempt to save you, then you must make said attempt in deep waters"

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They were not handcuffed by policy. They were handcuffed by the public, the legal system, and their own self interests.

No one wants to pay taxes. But everyone wants the services they won't pay for. When the firefighters jump in the water, without certification, they open the city to lawsuits. Then, they lose their jobs for saving the guy.

Yes, the outcome of saving the guy is the humane thing to do. But the reality is, most people choose what's in their best interest (like saving their job).

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That's the rub. No one, including non-firefighters (you know, the people not subject to firing for violating their city policy), went out to save the guy.

Must have been a little more than shallow water.

Moreover, were their Berkeley, Oakland, or Emeryville firefigters who were certified who could have been called in? They aren't that far away...there seems to be a lot of info missing from this story.

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So at least 75 people watched and it took nearly an hour. While I know it's their job to help people, cant put this solely on the fire department.

Without knowing all the conditions, not sure I'd risk my own safety to try and save someone who wants to kill himself and make a public spectacle out of it. (Yeah, I know, he was obviously mentally unstable)

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update...

Water Rescue Policies to Change

As of today, the fire department is changing its procedures, so that whoever is commander at that incident can make a decision about whether or not to send people into the water to rescue swimmers. They're also going to start training fire fighters in water rescue again. And they're doing an inventory of their equipment to figure out what they have and what they might need. Ms. Goldman mentioned wave runners, inflatable boats and other easily portable water craft -- apparently bringing the fire boat back into service is cost prohibitive and other types of boats would be easier to deploy.

According to Goldman, the city will be re-instating the funding for the water rescue program for the coming fiscal year.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/inalameda/detail?entry_id=90073#ixzz1O4HZJrck

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So the same city councels that keep threatening death to citizens due to budget cuts of fire depts, but have slush funds in the millions.

I hope the counsels salary keeps them warm and dry.

Everyone that stood there and watched without being stopped are cowards.

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Good for him, he got exactly what I wanted. Perhaps he got lucky in his chosen route out into the water. There's nothing to say someone else wouldn't have stepped off a dropoff or gotten pulled down into the mud. And he spent "nearly an hour in the water." That means he was in there less than one hour and DIED. Unless he was just a couple feet in, I think it was pretty smart for crews with no cold-water equipment to stay out of that water. What about the "victim?" He was standing around too. He's the one in danger. He didn't do anything either. Blame him for being a big enough a-hole to kill himself in public and need rescuing from a dangerous situation.

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Good for him, he got exactly what I wanted. Perhaps he got lucky in his chosen route out into the water. There's nothing to say someone else wouldn't have stepped off a dropoff or gotten pulled down into the mud. And he spent "nearly an hour in the water." That means he was in there less than one hour and DIED. Unless he was just a couple feet in, I think it was pretty smart for crews with no cold-water equipment to stay out of that water. What about the "victim?" He was standing around too. He's the one in danger. He didn't do anything either. Blame him for being a big enough a-hole to kill himself in public and need rescuing from a dangerous situation.

We normally save the alzheimers and other incapacitated from themselves also there killer.

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Man, what a weird story. The Bay is really shallow over by Alameda, but it gets deeper as you go further out. I guess they could have waded out there and overpowered him before he got too deep. :whoknows:

Yeah, instinct says save the guy, but he is obviously crazy and who knows how strong. Anyone outside of a trained rescue team that would have jumped in the water trying to save the guy would have been putting their life in serious danger.

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Yeah, instinct says save the guy, but he is obviously crazy and who knows how strong. Anyone outside of a trained rescue team that would have jumped in the water trying to save the guy would have been putting their life in serious danger.

Still curious no one even attempted to do so or go out to talk him in.

I've lost much of my humanity,but I don't know that I could just watch that.

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Still curious no one even attempted to do so or go out to talk him in.

I've lost much of my humanity,but I don't know that I could just watch that.

Maybe it was clear he was mental? As Bang said, boat wreck sure, this dude obviously had issues and may have wanted to take someone with him.

The water is a weapon as far as I'm concerned.

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