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Updated: Fire and Police Stand By and Watch Man Drown

A Big Island With No Boats?

Update, 4:30 pm Eastern:  The Alameda FD has changed its policy re: water rescues.  Scroll down.

THE ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA, FIRE AND POLICE DEPARTMENTS find themselves in a very embarrassing situation this morning after not taking any actions to save a man who was drowning in the San Francisco Bay Monday.  Witnesses say that the unidentified man in his 50's walked out into the water while fully clothed until he was neck-deep where he stopped and just stood there.  The obviously troubled man remained there as if he was resigned to perish on the spot.

The Alameda Police and Fire Departments both responded quickly, but the gathered first-responders just stood on the shore and watched the man.  The FD called the U. S. Coast Guard to respond and 20 minutes later they showed up with a boat that was unable to navigate the shallow waters where he man was standing.  Next came a call for the Coast Guard's rescue helicopter that was already on another mission.  When it was free from that task, it had to be refueled before responding to Alameda and arrived on scene about 65 minutes after the dispatch.

Alameda police offiders and firefighters stand by and
watch the man slowly die.  (ABC7 News image)

In the meantime, after about an hour the victim apparently succombed to hypothermia and lost consciousness.  With all of Alameda's rescuers watching, he collapsed into the water and drowned.  An off-duty nurse who is an expert swimmer and trained lifeguard swam out to the victim and pulled him to shore where the firefighters began resuscitation efforts, but it was too late to be effective.

Following the debacle, the police department issued a statement that said in part, "(the) Alameda Fire Department does not currently have, and is not certified, in land-based water rescues. The city of Alameda primarily relies on the United States Coast Guard for these types of events."

ABC7News filed this video report from the scene:


The Oakland Tribune carried the story HERE.

Firegeezer wants to know:  Alameda is an island – an island! - and yet they don't have so much as a small boat or Zodiac-type shallow water rescue craft?  What gives here?  And this excuse that they are "not certified in land-based water rescues"?  Where does that come from?  What percentage of the thousands of fire departments with Zodiacs seek out this so-called certification?  This stinks!!

Update, 4:30 pm Eastern:
Within a few hours after this story broke and then went viral on most fire/rescue websites around the world, the Alameda Interim Fire Chief announced that "rescue swimming" classes will begin immediately and proper certification for every firefighter will be restored.  The water rescue program had been cut by the city council in 2009 as a cost-saving move.  KGO-TV San Francisco now reports:

The Alameda fire chief said the mood is somber at the fire departments today. The chief said it is time for a policy change and to find a way to pay for the water rescue program.

"I was troubled and disappointed obviously. I think it was a deeply regrettable incident that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago," said Alameda Fire Chief Michael D'Orazi.

D'Orazi has been the interim fire chief for a week. He said he can't answer for the past, but he is going to meet with the police chief to discuss what happened on Sunday. He has also ordered a rewrite of the water rescue policy and has announced that firefighters will begin rescue swimming training immediately. After all ,they work for a city that calls themselves a city of homes and beaches.

The city council has a scheduled budget meeting tonight and Chief D'Orazi says he will be available if they want to talk to him about the situation.

KGO-TV also filed this updated video report:


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Comments - Add Yours

  • Doc176

    You can file that under “no one got hurt, everyone went home”…….oh wait ! ! !

  • Sonotboi

    My guess is the POPO threatened to nurse with arrest until she could stand it no more. Hooray for the civilian in this one. However, witnessed a similar yesterday on the local bay, except the fools overloaded their flat bottom and the chop flipped them into the water.  POPO and FD watched while civilians on jet skis took action.

    What has happened in Emergency Services today? Where are the dedicated individuals who have always been there?  They are hiding afraid of being fired for doing their job or being sued for doing their job.

    • Gru

      The overbearing threat of bottom feeding lawyers is one of the many reasons that I left (what’s left of) the state of California..especially the San Francisco Bay Area. 

      This is going to look very bad…especially since the citizens of the SFBA are turning against what they see as overpaid fire/EMS folks. 

    • Andrew Tucker

      The police threatened to breastfeed until the someone was arrested? WTF? 

      • Bobguelph

        when I was 13 I could easily have safety lined him underwater for these bozos to pull him in. Maybe he did want to die but I sensea window waslift openbut today toomany think of ME first.
        FIRE the crew chiefs ….they should have LED the “rescue”. Probably too fat and donuts too heavy in tubby tummies.

    • MST1

      The dedicated individuals who have always been there are still where they’ve always been.  Unfortunately, times have changed and this incident is a good example of that.  The public expects everything from it’s public safety officials, but rarely wants to pay for that capability.

      If they had made an attempt and a rescuer had also drowned, then I’d bet my next paycheck that the reaction would be questioning the decision to attempt a rescue without the proper training credentials and equipment!  That’s one of the first things that’s taught in these classes, if you don’t have the proper training and equipment, then don’t do anything.  Then there would undoubtedly be a law suit by the dead rescuers family and even more strain on what is obviously a fragile economic situation for the city. 

      Call it cold, insensitive or whatever, but under these circumstances, is it really worth the risk for someone who intentionally put themself into that position in order to kill themselves?  Obviously, this person needed (psychological) help, but how much risk is reasonable to be expected in this situation?

      Personally, I find it downright criminal that a city on an island has no internal water rescue capabilities.  Maybe the DA should pay a visit to the Mayor and whomever else is responsible for the removal of funding for water rescue training?

  • John R

    Here in Vermont our State Fire Academy actively discourges volunteer firefighters from taking advanced courses like high-angle rope rescue and water rescue because the firefighters would not be able to maintain their CERTIFICATION unless they were on a rescue team and the regional rescue teams do not accept volunteers.
    This in a state where 80% are volunteers.

    We are brave enough to run into burning buildings, but we fear the THREAT of lawyers

  • John

    It’s probably like here in Spokane we had to deal with police and firefighter layoffs while in the meantime they found a million dollars for a museum.  I hope when people have an emergency they call the museum for help

  • JoeB-retired IBM and Retd. USA

    I am wondering why they did not request either a CHP helicopter (Certified for rescue) or an East Bay Parks Helicopter.  What are these guy’s thinking.

  • Airborne-soldier

    The victim was obviously not in his right mind…so I guess the message here is that crazy people’s lives are not as valuable as others….If this had been Paris Hilton in a bikini, half of Alameda County would have been in the water to rescur her !!

  • John

    Devil’s advocate:

    He didn’t just drown accidentally. He was attempting suicide, correct? A suicidal subject goes into the water of his own volition and stays there while Fire/Police ask him to come back to shore. Say a firefighter goes into the water in a survival suit to the man and gets stabbed. Isn’t this a police situation until he is confirmed to be non-threatening? If EMS responds to a suicidal person they wait for PD to make sure the scene is safe. Does that change just because he is standing in 5 feet of water?

    Attempting rescues like this without the proper training and equipment usually results in the death of the rescuer. Are the firefighters trained lifeguards? Can those who were on scene even swim?  Maybe not. Even if the guy doesn’t have a weapon, what if he panics and tries to drown the rescuer? That’s 90% of lifeguard training, learning to protect yourself from a panicked swimmer. 

    Is there a written agreement with the USCG to provide this service? Isn’t that what the taxpayers want, less duplication of services?I seem to remember articles complaining about lifeguards making $200K in California. Where were they? 

    This is a failure by the City management and the USCG. The City chose not to pay for lifeguards or water rescue training. USCG was on scene promptly and their functions were those in demand. They did not act or brought the wrong equipment. Would you feel better if a cop or firefighter had died attempting the rescue?

    • ltfd seattle

      This incident was not a failure on the part of the USCG; they are
      mandated to COORDINATE maritime rescue efforts in navigable waterways.
      They MAY perform rescue activities if they have appropriate resources
      and properly trained personnel available.

      In this instance they responded with personnel trained in boat-based
      surface water rescue (not certified to enter the water for rescue).
      However, they were unable to access the patient due to the draft
      limitations of the USCG vessel on scene- the patient was in shallow
      water (obviously).

      A USCG Rescue Swimmer (trained/certified to enter the water for
      rescue) was en route, via helicopter, but did not arrive in time to

      NFPA 1670 & 1006 address the program and training requirements
      for Fire Department Technical Rescue Programs, including boat-based
      & dive-based rescue activities.

  • Andrew Tucker

    I wonder if this department has received grants from the government for training and equipment in water rescues…if so it raises the question of which chief took it?

  • 123abcdefg

    Unstable ppl that want to die, combine that with untrained responders, equals bad very bad outcomes for public safety professionals.

  • Popknot

    Wow. What Effin” heroes. The “culture of safety” at work.

    Glad I’m retired.

  • ukfbbuff

     My 2cents from Calif.

    1st. The City of Alameda is an island city connected to the “mainland” by a bridge and tunnel/”tube”.

    2nd. This is a surprise and a shock to me since back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was FF testing  part of the physical agility test for the AFD was having to swim laps in a pool, I believe for the ability to conduct a water rescue. This was way before Swift Water Rescue equipment was available.

     3rd. Depending upon the Coast Guard to traverse across the Bay to attempt the water rescue was truely time consuming. Some where over the recent past within the budgetary/staffing issues the need for a water rescue craft for the FD and PD to use got “lost” somewhere and this is the end result.

  • Pingback: In Alameda a Man Dies as Rescuers Watch | Rogue Medic()

  • Gnome Handler

    Okay, lets look at this coldly. The guy was attempting suicide. He succeeded. He didnt want to be rescued. Who are we to assume he doesnt have the right to die the way he wanted? The days of gallant Firefighters running into burning buildings and making saves are nearly over thanks to the guys with the degrees. Far to many regulations, studies, consultants, feasability studies, SOPs, middle managers and outside contractors have been brought in by dim witted elected or appointed types so they wont have to take the blame when something goes wrong. We have lost sight of the mission. 

  • KDD

    If nothing else, at least the human spirit (gene?) should’ve kicked in. 
    At the end of the day Institutions ARE un by people…not rules and regulations and decrees (words?).  Apparently, this one is not. 

  • Snuffles

    What a sick and depraved society we now are.  To have so-called rescuers and bystanders watch as a human being drowns, for whatever reason, is just sick!

    • Rogue Medic

      Snuffles and KDD and the rest who would have saved the day,

      Go read Happy Medic’s post – Rescuers Stand By While Man Drowns?

      As a certified Bay and Surf Rescue swimmer, he provides good explanations for why the decision to not send rescuers into the water was the right decision.

  • Guest

    Where was John Q Public when the funding was being cut ? Home safe like it wasn’t going to effect him.The dice were rolled and a life was lost.Now…it’s the fire and police that are under the spotlight. It’s not there fault.Taxes were kept at a level that was to make everyone happy. It never fails.Someone always pays for cuts.I’ve seen it in my city where they cut the manning and people died in fires that most likely could have been saved. We even killed a firefighter before the city leaders(?) put more men on. So before you put the blame on the F.D. or the P.D. look in the mirror and ask yourself how much did you save in taxes.

  • JM

    The chief says “it’s time for a change.” I agree, I believe it is time for a change of fire chief. I believe he should be fired. He is the head of a fire department ( which is located on an island) that has no water rescue capability. And what is this “certification crap?” All they needed for this rescue was a firefighter who is at least a half-assed swimmer, a wetsuit, a board, a flotation device, and possibly a zodiac boat with more minimally half-assed swimmers. If they are concerned about the guy being armed they should take an Alameda cop who is at least a half-assed swimmer with them (for those who don’t know about wetsuits, they are super bouyant which  when combined with a mask and snorkel does not require an expert swimmer to stay topside.) What the hell do they plan to do if a commercial aircraft from the neighboring Oakland Intl airport sucks up a bird on takeoff and bellies into the muck of the bay at Alameda, call the USCG and sit on the shore eating popcorn? I vote to fire the fire chief. In my opinion, for the amount of money the city is paying for that position, they should be able to do better .

    • firegeezer

      This is the new fire chief, only on the job a couple of weeks. I give him credit for saying and doing the right things immediately instead of waiting for orders from above. The former chief was fired last year for putting city gas into his personal vehicles. All the blame here goes to the city council that continues to cut public safety.

    • Spike

      First, the Fire Chief has only been the “Chief” for a week….  He is hardly responsible for the city cutting their budget.  Second, the city obviously doesn’t believe “water rescue” is a priority for them or they would not have eliminated it from the budget – don’t blame the FD for that.  Third, if a FF defies the protocol of his department, he may not be covered if he is injured or killed because of his defiance.  Fourth, because these FF’s were not “certified,” some lawyer could have had a field day with the case if they had attempted a rescue and the guy drowned anyway…  He could have said the FD/City were negligent for allowing an “untrained person” to attempt a rescue and blamed them for his drowning, and won millions from the city for it.  

  • Whynot1033

     Mutual Aid is always used and available  between the city,  county  ACSD, the eastbay regional Park district, nearby Oakland Fire and the USCG training center in Alameda. One one think to make a call. Incident command on scene can always make a call for assistance and has done so to SFFD acroos the bay for fires near waterways and then some.