Rescue Policy Changed After Alameda Drowning

Alameda County changes policy that prevented emergency intervention.

By RJ Middleton
|  Wednesday, Jun 1, 2011  |  Updated 2:57 PM PDT
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Budget cuts contributed to a lack of response to a drowning victim, as emergency personnel watched his body bob in the water for about an hour. Alameda County is reviewing its rescue policies.

Budget cuts contributed to a lack of response to a drowning victim, as emergency personnel watched his body bob in the water for about an hour. Alameda County is reviewing its rescue policies.

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When a fully clothed, apparently suicidal man walked into the San Francisco Bay from Shoreline Drive, in Alamdea County, all the would-be rescuers could do was watch. For about an hour.

Why their boots stayed dry is a matter of debate Wednesday, the day after 57-year-old Raymond Zack was pronounced dead at an Alameda County hospital.

The water's depth and temperature may have played a role. As did budget cuts.

The Alameda Fire Department's water rescue program was discontinued in 2009 because of budget cuts.

"(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," a police spokesperson said.

But the Coast Guard couldn't operate in water that shallow, according to their own statement. And the water was too deep for police and fire personnel.

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

One man told the board during the meeting, "It just strikes me as unbelievably callous that nobody there with any sort of training couldn't strip off their gear, go in the water, and help this person."

Zack's body was recovered by an off-duty nurse who swam out 50 yards to get him.

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