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Police Forced to Watch Bay Area Man Drown

Police Forced to Watch Bay Area Man Drown

Police, fire crews and passers-by in Alameda, Calif., stand along the beach on Monday while a man walked into the water and later drowned. [Oakland Local Police]

June 02, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO – Fire and police teams say city policy and budget cuts are to blame for emergency teams watching from shore while a 52-year-old man apparently took his own life in the Bay Area surf near San Francisco on Memorial Day.

The San Jose Mercury News says Alameda police and firefighters responded quickly to a 911 call about an attempted suicide off Crown Beach, but firefighters could not enter the water because they are not trained in land/water rescue. Police stayed back because, they said, the victim, Raymond Zack, was suicidal and possibly violent.

Zack stood in the neck-deep water for nearly an hour — sometimes raising his arms above the surface — before he eventually floated away about 150 yards from shore, the newspaper reports.

Interim Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi said the department’s water rescue program was shelved in 2009 because of budget cuts, which affected training. As a result, department policy prevented firefighters from going into the water in such cases.

“We’re not trained to go into the water. Obviously, the type of gear that we have on, we don’t have the type of equipment that you would use to go into the water,” Alameda Police Lt. Joe McNiff said, KGO TV reports.

“Well, if I was off duty, I would know what I would do, but I think you’re asking me my on-duty response, and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures because that’s what’s required by our department to do,” Alameda Fire Division Chief Ricci Zombeck said when asked by KGO TV ABC7 if he would enter the water to save a drowning child.

At one point, Zack floated 150 yards out, but that was too shallow for a U.S. Coast Guard boat to reach him and its helicopter was on another call and arrived too late.

Eventually, when the tide brought the body closer to shore, a passerby swam out and pulled it onto the beach, witnesses said, according to the newspaper.

Mayor Marie Gilmore promises an investigation into the incident, the Mercury News reports.

At a hearing Tuesday evening, the policy that prevented trained people from intervening and rescuing people in distress was changed, NBC Bay Area reports.

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