Update Jun 9: The controversy over that 2009 memo continues. Read the latest from the Contra Costa Times.

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Update Jun 8: From the Oakland Tribune this morning:

Mayor Marie Gilmore called for an independent review Tuesday into the circumstances surrounding the death of Raymond Zack, who intentionally drowned himself on Memorial Day as police and firefighters watched from the shore. The call from Gilmore came after Acting City Manager Lisa Goldman said that 911 records and other documents detailing the emergency response would be posted on the city’s website within the next several days. “It’s extremely important that we determine what happened and when it happened,” Gilmore said. Full article

From yesterday
The Alameda City Council is scheduled to discuss the controversial incident in which police and fire personnel watched on shore as 52-year-old Raymond Zack committed suicide by drowning. The City Manager is scheduled to issue a report, which is No 7 on the agenda.

Earlier post
KTVU yesterday didn’t get anywhere trying to talk to Alameda officials about some documents concerning budget cuts to the water rescue program. (Watch the video here.)

One person KTVU talked to is David Howard, who describes himself as a citizen journalist running the web site Action Alameda News. Today the site published an interview with Alameda’s acting Deputy Fire Chief Daren Olson about the incident.

In a telephone interview with Alameda’s acting Deputy Fire Chief Daren Olson, the Deputy Chief said the Fire department’s budget cuts in no way impacted their decision to watch 52-year-old Raymond Zack drown…

“We do have money for the year 2011-2012, which was put into the budget before the incident (drowning) happened, said Deputy Fire Chief Olson.

When Deputy Fire Chief Olson was asked if this program was what prevented firefighters from entering the water he said no.

“The man was fully clothed and about 100 yards out. It was hard for us to evaluate him (Raymond Zack). We didn’t know if he was dangerous.”

On June 1, KQED freelancer Katrina Schwartz interviewed City of Alameda Interim Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi, who attempted to explain why the public safety workers on the scene declined to intervene. D’Orazi said that the department was decertified in water rescue in 2009 due to budget cuts. A 2009 department memo states that funding for re-certification and training of rescue swimmers had been approved.

“I am currently scheduling time to complete instructor training and land-based rescue training,” Division Chief Dale Vogelsang wrote. “When this training is complete, the Rescue Swimmers will be re-certified as appropriate. We anticipate training to commence within the next 30 to 45 days.” (Update 8:22 p.m On KQED Forum today, reporter Peter Hegarty of the Bay City News Group said that according to Interim Fire Chief D’Orazi, the training mentioned in the memo never occurred due to budget cuts.)

Action Alameda News also tracked down another document from the city’s web site that appears to cite budgeting for water rescue. We tried to talk with Deputy Chief Olson of the Alameda Fire Department, but after two attempts the receptionist read me the following statement:

“There will be no more interviews accepted with the press nor statements made to the press regarding the drowning incident until a citywide review is completed.”

Update Jun 8: Here’s a comment we received that disputes the significance of the documents that Action Alameda has posted and KTVU reported on:

These documents don’t say what you and others claim they do. You should be aware that you are joining a political movement trying to shoehorn assumptions into this for nothing more than political retribution.

It is well known that Firefighters perform land-based water rescue all the time, the budget says nothing about assumptions of in-water rescue. The money for in-water rescue was never actually given to the fire department, the training, mentioned in the memo, was never available because the former city manager and former fire chief did not provide it.

We did try to get the Alameda Fire Department’s point of view, but they aren’t talking to anybody right now.

Meanwhile, the Alameda Police Department said it had asked the Alameda County Fire Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, the Oakland fire and police departments, and the East Bay Regional Park Police District for help during the incident. But those agencies have denied receiving such a request.

Alameda Mayor Calls for Drowning Review 25 April,2014Jon Brooks

  • Alana Dill

    Budget cuts DID play a part in this tragedy. We did not have a trained rescue team able to deal with a suicide drowning. We didn’t have a boat, we didn’t have counselors, and we didn’t have anyone allowed to go into the water, at this time, to assess the situation. That’s because previously the budget didn’t allow for those, and even if money has been reinstated, someone’s dead. Fact is, it took a horrible loss, an embarrassment for our city and shame and frustration for our incapacitated rescue workers. Probably the city will be faced with a lawsuit far more expensive than the training would have been. Very badly done.

    So yes, it comes down once again to the bottom line. You get what you pay for, and reap the consequences for negligence.

    • Jeff

      You are either very misinformed, or you are trying to spin the facts. The funds for the training was ok’ed two years ago. SF Fire would have provided certification for free. This had nothing to do with the budget. If the state can spend billions on illegal immigrant health care and education, it can devote a few bucks to protecting the people who pay the taxes.

      Additional details include the fact that Alameda Fire apparently called around for help, but never came out and requested help…..they merely asked what equipt the other agencies had on hand. How odd – wouldn’t you say?

      Now they are all clammed up. Figures. Ummm, yeah I know you are all making $250,000 year and are big shots, but you work for us. You aren’t allowed to not answer questions. Civil “servants” indeed!

  • Mildred Gump

    “You cannot serve both God & mammon” said the philosopher. Didn’t need a trained rescue team, or a boat, or counselors, or permission to enter the water–all they needed was a moral compass w/o a price tag on it, Alana! Hope those FFs like fighting fires in Hell, cuz that’s where they might now end up.

  • Alamedan

    Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore is too close to the firefighters to have any sort of investigation – it should be conducted by an independent law envforcement agency.

    The firefighters union spent tens of thousands of dollars last year to get gilmore elected, and there are pictures of gilmore, councilmembers bonta and tam, posing with the firefighter union leadership


  • IC

    I totally agree with Alamedan. As a new resident of Alameda, from personal observation, I find the Alameda firefighters union to be very corrupt and most of them do not even live in Alameda! Sounds like negative publicity is bad karma for the fire department. You reap what you sow. The firefighters union viscously attacked several candidates that where against the corrupt developer SunCal in the last political campaign here. I was very surprised to find this drama in the “Mayberry of the SF Bay”. They seem to be very money hungry and see the job as a county job with a lot of overtime. Big development=more money. Who cares about environmental and social impact? I grew up in a small town of volunteer firefighters, where firemen had dignity and lived in the community that they worked in, so they cared. As a Alameda resident, homeowner, and tax payer, appalled at the blatant ties that the fire department has with SunCal and electing people that are affiliated with SunCal. Also, the former fire chief was stealing gas. I like Gilmore, she seems smart and somewhat honest, but she seems to be pressured by SunCal and her developer husband.

  • Disappointed

    These documents don’t say what you and others claim they do. You should be aware that you are joining a political movement trying to shoehorn assumptions into this for nothing more than political retribution.

    It is well known that Firefighters perform land-based water rescue all the time, the budget says nothing about assumptions of in-water rescue. The money for in-water rescue was never actually given to the fire department, the training, mentioned in the memo, was never available because the former city manager and former fire chief did not provide it.

    Please do your homework before latching on to members of the conspiracy of the month club and spreading their latest yarn.

    The memorial day incident was a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened, but the reason was a human one, people are upset, questions need to be asked, things need to change?

    However, this wasn’t a bunch of people standing on a beach callously doing nothing, this was a slow building tragedy, that lacked the urgency to set off warning bells that demanded instant action. In the end, someone should have stepped up, but this trying to turn everyone into evil liars is spurious and distasteful and you should be trying to understand the issue, instead of pushing someone’s personal agenda forward.

    • Jon Brooks

      Thanks for your comment. We included it in the post. We did try to talk to Alameda Fire about the possible significance of these documents, but they wouldn’t talk with us.

      • Adam Gillitt

        “It is well known that Firefighters perform land-based water rescue all the time, the budget says nothing about assumptions of in-water rescue.The money for in-water rescue was never actually given to the fire department, the training, mentioned in the memo, was never available because the former city manager and former fire chief did not provide it.”

        Well known by whom? You don’t use your real name, so we have no idea who you are or where your facts come from. Please provide some documentation to back up any of your assertions.

        If you want some homework, read the document in which the AFD budgets as a performance metric that they will conduct EIGHT water based rescues in FY 10/11 and forecasts TEN in FY 11/12: http://www.scribd.com/doc/57089850/2010-11-Budget-Department-Budgets-Excerpt

        That’s no yarn, that’s actual documentation. Is someone’s political reputation more important than the safety of an entire city? Mr. Brooks, including baseless allegations without any substantiation is the definition of pushing a personal agenda forward. You might want to edit your story again.

    • Alamedan

      So what do those documents mean then? If you have the full story, share it.


    • Karli

      DISAPPOINTED: This was an acute situation, by anyone’s standards. Not a “slow building tragedy” as you state it. Someone in the process of committing suicide is a “now” situation. Unbelelivable.

  • Matthew Rhodes

    You’re all assuming that firefighters are only at their jobs to wear the uniform and drive shiny red trucks. This was a law enforcement call, as most suicides are. Attempted suicides are dicey to begin with and only become more complicated when more and more people get involved. Then, you have a guy bent on dying standing in the bay. What is he hiding? Is it a trap? Does he want to hurt or kill those sent to rescue him? Is he really trying to die? Being a part of search and rescue myself and having family in different fire departments, I’ll tell you this; there’s no way I’m going to prevent a person from commiting suicide if it means I might die myself. The goal is to ensure everyone comes back alive. Like it or not, this nut was probably going to die anyway, but I’m sure that offends a few people.

  • Born and Raised in Alameda

    As the daughter of a police officer and the wife of a retired Oakland firefighter, I can find no justification whatsoever for the actions of those “public servants” who Swore to Protect and serve the citizens of Alameda. As I understand it, they out-numbered the victim 12:1; and, he was STANDING in the water. As a Certified Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor, myself, I can fairly accurately state that the police and fire officials at the scene could have entered the water and approached the victim in order to assess the likelihood of bringing him safely to shore, without endangering themselves. The fact that they did not even attempt to do so is unconscionable. They are a disgrace to their profession and to the City of Alameda. This has nothing to do with money, rules or politics; it is simply a matter of Common Sense, Right and Wrong. When it comes to saving a life, you do what has to be done and worry about the “rules” or the “liability ” later. I cannot imagine a single member of my husband’s crew who would have stood idly by had he told them that they were not authorized for water rescue (something he NEVER would have done) ! The fact that the victim lingered in the water for an hour is evidence enough that he might have been helped. What a tragedy!!!

    • Karli

      BORN AND RAISED: I agree with most of what you said, with the exception of what probably led to the “tragedy.” It had everything to do with money and politics. Ever heard of the term: “Money talks and s – – t walks?” Well, this was probably a case of “Money will talk, if you don’t walk ( the walk ).” This thing goes beyond tragedy.

      • Born and Raised in Alameda

        Sadly enough, you probably are right!!!

  • Claudia Davison (“Local lady”)

    My experience with Alameda Police and Fire responders has been very good: Three calls re former fighting neighbors; one for a passed-out drunk on my porch; one for an unresponsive neighbor; April 9th response to my friend’s overdose in her condo; May 18th wellness check for a missing elderly neighbor, and, finally, my friend’s “successful” suicide in her condo on May 21st. I found my friend on April 9th and May 21st.

    Someone hell-bent on suicide will find a way to succeed, and we cannot judge someone else’s suffering. It is a tragic event, and horrific to witnesses, especially for Mr. Zach’s family, but it is no one else’s fault. Police and fire fighters do not disrobe to do their jobs, and the first rule of all the First Aid classes I’ve taken is: do not endanger another person.

    Lifeguards save people who want to be rescued. Police and firefighters with policing and firefighting gear would sink. Leaving it ashore they still risk hypothermia in the cold water.

    Maybe with training, flat-bottom boats or surfboards and wetsuits they could get into a 6′ deep water-wrestling match with a big suicidal man. That may have delayed, but not prevented, this sad, but deliberate act. Where is the human dignity in dragging him in like a captured animal, into forced mental hospitalization? When do we respect his choices? Maybe two suicides in two weeks is too much for me. –Local lady

  • Phillip

    I only read about the news and am not sure why policy and protocol over trumped everything. Watching someone drowning live sounds very cruel. Take off the uniform. Lets act as human being. We as human being should be ashamed of ourselves.

  • Jack\

    First responders need to know how to do lifesaving in water, training or not, no excuses. How embarassing. Everyone sees them as heroes???? Every opportunity they are getting a good deal. Why not take some of the money they will charge the state for this Friday’s SF firefighter funeral and support the victum of Alameda. No expense spared for their own. Overtime, gas, dress uniform from all over the state all inclusive in their two days a week of on duty and don’t forget the food shoping, lazyboys, gym, sleeping quarters at the station and the sports viewing. Patting themselves on the fanny presenting themselves as heroes. How many engines and heroes show up at one fender bender? They and their unions are taking advantage. These guys didn’t even earn a college degree and they are getting 75K starting plus a pension at the top of their salary for life after 25 years. Don’t forget they can retire and get another job while collecting from the first job. Give me a break. Not even near the top of most dangerous jobs.

  • acreccsucks

    Alameda County Fire Dispatch (which handles several cities in the county including Alameda City) has some culpability here, too-and it’s time that dispatch center gets a little scrutiny. Hundreds of delayed and/or inappropriate responses over the past few years. Some patients died. Others did not get the care they needed in a timely manner. Why is that? Oh yeah and fires often tend to get larger, the longer it takes for a Fire Dept to get water on them. Delayed responses in Alameda County, Hayward, Newark, Union City, Livermore, Pleasanton most everywhere in Alameda County are common. It’s a crime, or should be.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of EconomyBeat.org, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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