Tonight, the Alameda City Council will examine the circumstances surrounding the death of Raymond Zack, who intentionally drowned himself in San Francisco Bay on Memorial Day while police and firefighters stood by. We open the phone lines to get your responses to this tragedy. Should first-responders always try to save a life, regardless of policy or protocol?

Peter Hegarty, reporter with the Bay Area News Group

  • Markpiper

    The response to the successful Alameda suicide was unbelievably pathetic. If you are a professional who deals with emergencies you need to be able to improvise. Incredible failure of leadership. Look at Flight 93. Untrained civilians assessed the situation and with incredible courage mounted an attempt which saved the Capitol building or the White House. These “pros” could not figure out how to save a man standing in 5 1/2 feet of water ?

  • Melody Lacy

    We rely on the First Responders to help in situations like the Alameda suicide because if we cannot rely on them, bystanders will feel compelled to try to attempt to do the rescues themselves, thereby endangering secondary potential victims.

  • Tpjh

    I am concerned about the promise of transparency in the investigation given the mayor and city council’s lack of transparency in eliminating other city services.  For instance, there has been no public input in the closing of the animal shelter which is part of the police department.  I don’t trust city officials to be transparent at all when it comes to dealing with the police.

  • will

    Place the blame with the Police and Fire Department as they actively discouraged the public from intervening.

  • Jack in Ventura

    Did no one think to go find someone with a surfboard or 2 and a couple wetsuits that could have kickstarted an improvised rescue? Are we that wedded to “procedure” that we’ve lost the ability to think on our feet and adapt? Did none of the emergency services have rope that could have been attached to them allowing personnel onshore to pull them in?

    This whole incident is a damning indictment of California, and our culture in general.

    • 93gobears

      I walk along that beach 3-4 times a week.  There are long boards and kayaks hanging from apartment balconies up and down shoreline drive.
      There is also a shack on the beach that rents sailboards and wetsuits less than a mile away from the incident.
      Unfortunately the Police actively discouraged the public from intervening from the shore.  Any public rescue would require the courage to disregard a police order and face possible arrest (in Alameda they cuff first, investigate later).

      • I think it is a tragedy and utterly ridiculous that the police discouraged anyone from trying to help – thanks for this information.

  • 93gobears

    Remember, that APD is the department that killed two of their own K-9 dogs within 2 years.  One police dog locked in a car for three hours, while the other was shot at the hands of a second officer.

  • Robert Somerton

    What most don’t realize is that death by suicide well emergence personnel stand idly by occurs just about everyday in our country. The drowning in Alameda is all over the news just now due to fact that it transpired in public view and the drastic budget cuts effecting all of our states. 

    I can tell you from personal experience as a former EMT that we stand by waiting for police back up, as a rule, watching people die everyday. That back-up usually comes fairly quickly but in the case of my fathers death back in 1996 it took a sheriffs deputy over an hour to arrive at his home well all the while his truck ran in the garage, with him in it and all doors/windows well secured. Neighbors called 911, EMT/Fire arrived within 3 minutes but were instructed by the Lake County Sheriffs Dept. not to even attempt entry, waiting as i said over an hour for a deputy to arrive. My dad was long gone by the time the back door to his garage was breached and he was pulled out of his truck. 

    EMT, Fire and Police are all about certification, they as a rule wouldn’t take a single step without instructions on how exactly to proceed, it’s a sickening to watch people freeze in place for fear of termination from on high for not following protocols.

    Robert Somerton
    Lake County, Ca.     

    • Liz Williams

      Robert,   I’m so sorry about your father.   Your post took my breath away.

  • A couple of datapoints for your show:

     – Water temp is over 60 degrees, not 54/55 as reported.
     – The woman who fetched the body was reportedly very petite — not more than 100 pounds.

  • Julie Epona

    It was known that this person was committing suicide – why not simply allow him the space to end his life as he chose as long as he was not endangering anyone else?

    • It doesn’t sound like it was all that well thought out a suicide, does it?  If he really was just depressed and needed help – he clearly wasn’t getting it.  

    • Linda

      Suicide researchers suggest trying to intervene in a suicide because the
      person might change their mind just knowing that one person cares.  This applies even more to a “not well thought out” suicide.

  • 93gobears

    The problem wasn’t lack of training, the problem was lack of certification.  A memo was issued over two years ago to suspend water rescues because of lack of funding for training to maintain certification.  That funding was reinstated approximately 30 days later and training should have resumed and the policy reversed.  This was over two years ago.
    In fact the AFD was actually budgeted for approximately 8 water rescues in fiscal year 2010/2011.

  • While I agree with what one of the panel members said – I would not risk my life for someone trying to commit suicide – there wasn’t really a risk to anyone’s life here. 

    The water in the bay is not “deadly” cold – I have done half a dozen crossings from Alcatraz (without a wetsuit).  All you need is a paddle board or some life preservers to go wrap around someone like the man in this case.

    It’s just ridiculous that so many people stood there, watching – instead of pulling the guy out.  If he really did want to commit suicide, I’m sure he would have found a way after being “rescued” from the Alameda beach instead – but if he was depressed and really just needed some help – we’ll never ever know, will we?

    Kudos to the young woman who swam out and dragged in his body – proving that a tiny woman without a wetsuit could easily make that distance and all the idiot men (with greater upper body strength) standing on shore scratching their heads need to rethink “liability” and responsibility to the public.

    • Alan

      You are a fool, plain and simple if you believe there was no risk to anyone’s life here. If that was so how did zach die? Fish bite?

      Have you ever tried to rescue a person from the ocean? Well, I have, I spent 5 years as a state beach lifeguard and it is difficult at best with a person who wants to be rescued.

      I think all of you unqualified monday morning QB’s need to shut the hell up.

      • Being verbally abusive is not appropriate in this forum.  If you cannot articulate your disagreement without being rude, perhaps you should refrain.

        • Alan

          Oh, OK so describing police and fire on scene as a bunch of “nut scratchers” is cool? you are a joke and a fool!

          • You are being abusive.  I request that you stop calling names.  I did not call anyone names and you are not being civil. You can’t even take responsibility for your impolite words by creating an actual profile and are posting anonymously – please troll elsewhere.

          • Alan

            Quote: Kudos to the young woman who swam out and dragged in his body – proving that a tiny woman without a wetsuit could easily make that distance and all the idiot men (with greater upper body strength) standing on shore scratching their heads need to rethink “liability” and responsibility to the public. 

            I didn’t realize “idiot” was a compliment.

          • There is a distinction your name-calling and personal attacks against me personally and my description.  Please stop harassing me – your cowardly anonymous comments do nothing to your credit.

          • Peter Williams

            No, “idiot” is not a compliment, just an apt description.

      • 93gobears

        I live in Alameda and have swum at that beach.  This is not the ocean.  There are no waves.  It is about as placid as a lake and there is no drop off.  This gentleman did not actually drown but rather succombed to hypothermia because of the length of time he spent in 55-60 degree water.

        I have also done open water lifeguarding and would have had no problem attempting a rescue in those conditions so long as I had a long board to paddle out with. 

        There were firefighters on the scene who had previous training in water rescue.  The problem was simply that their certification had lapsed and the Fire Department failed to schedule training to re-certify the water-rescuers and revise the policy.  Go to Firestation One on Park Street in Alameda and you will find an open water lifeguard rescue board hanging on the wall.

        PS.  The department reversed it’s policy the day after the incident.

        • Liz Williams

          Yup – there is a rescue board r9ght there in station one – which is the station that responded to the call.  someon could have held on to it for stability, or just worn a personal floatation device

  • Linda M.

    YES – Not only first responders but EVERYONE should assess a situation, and intervene.  Do something, people!  It would be very interesting if any people came forward to describe what they thought was going on, to give us some idea of how this could have happened.

  • Guest

    Someone should have done something. 

    I once stopped a pickpocket on a Muni bus from reaching into a woman’s purse – I saw her wallet in his hand inside her bag as I cried out – HE’S STEALING FROM YOUR PURSE!  The woman was just going down the stairs to get off the bus, and I got up and approached as she got off the bus.  As the bus pulled away she waved at me and smiled, which made me think she wasn’t robbed.  I went towards the front of the bus to tell the driver, and the pickpocket was at the front of the bus and approached me in a threatening way.  No one on the bus stood up to back me up.  He was tall and had his hand up and was threatening me.  No one helped.  The bus driver did NOTHING.  Finally the bad guy got off the bus and I got off at the next stop.  My hands were shaking and I was so afraid, but I was proud of intervening.

  • It is often difficult to decide when to intervene in such situations. 

    Take the example of walking down the street, you see what looks like a homeless person, and you want to help. You may want to offer the individual some money, but what if the person isn’t homeless, do you take the chance of severe embarrassment to both parties? 

    Similarly, at what point do you feel that this individual walking out into the water is trying to hurt themselves. If you were just walking on the beach and someone walked up to you and started asking you if you were okay, how would you feel? What if you were just relaxing walking slowly and thinking about your day.

    While it is horrible that this happened, think about when you yourself would intervene and help, especially with so many people around, though communication might not be happening, the fact that so many people are not doing anything could prevent anyone from standing out to go out to help.

    It is easy to reflect on this and say that everyone was right or wrong, but if we  were in the situation, I think we would find it just as difficult to deal with.

    On the flip side.. Of course, I think someone could have walked out and just started up a conversation with the individual, just try to relate to them, don’t go out trying to save or help them. A little bit of human interaction can go a long way..

    My 2 cents. 🙂

  • 93gobears
  • Julio

    Alameda island? No water rescue personnel? How is this possible? Is negligence involved?

  • Julio

    Alameda island? No water rescue personnel? How is this possible? Is negligence involved?

  • Javaluvr1999

    To protect and serve, even from yourself…..unacceptable to watch someone drown as they have family who would want them saved….

  • Ken Ayer

    I’m a recreational boater who’s taken many safety at sea courses.  All of SF Bay is classified as “cold” water by the Navy, year round.  Hypothermia sets in quickly when a body is immersed in cold water.  Getting someone back on to a boat generally  requires a block and tackle and a stable platform (boat); the most popular one is called a Life Sling.  If the Alameda people did not have wet suits and did not have a boat to pull him on to, they would have been risking their own lives and probably would not have saved a heavy man bent on suicide.  The real issue is not their behavior, but why they didn’t have the training and equipment they should have had.

    • 93gobears

      You don’t need a block and tackle to perform an open water rescue.

      Training Video: Paddle Board Rescue Techniques Concious/Concious/Unconcious:

      It’s not that hard, you don’t forget your training simply because your cert’s are out of date.  It’s like riding a bike.I know for a fact that AFD has rescue pabble boards and former open water lifeguards on duty.The problem was a top heavy department that relied too heavily upon written policy to make on scene decisions.

    • Liz Williams

      They had the training and a rescue longboard was hanging in their station.   The budget shows money for 8 water rescues – you don’t budget money for water rescues unless you have staff that can perform them.

  • Guest

    What people don’t understand is that if something is beyond your certification you DO NOT do it. If I as an EMT went against my certification and did a procedure that I am not certified in I would lose my Certification and possibly get sued. Do not blame the Fire Fighters, blame the budget cuts. If they were certified in Swift Water Rescue rest assured they would have. If they did go in un-certified and something happened rest assured the individuals involved would most likely lose their job. Please educate your self on EMS and Rescue before forming an opinion.

    • Linda

      People don’t have to be certified to care about others and try to help them.  These firefighters broke the first law of humanity by claiming – not my job.

    • Liz Williams

      Or, guest, perhaps you should educate yourself further about this incident.  I’ve read the entire policy, have you?  I can’t see a single thing in it that would have prevented a firefighter from using a pfd and longboard with or without a bullhorn to wode out close enough to talk to this despondent man.

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