Suicide by Drowning Leads to Change in Policy

The Alameda fire department said it will make changes to its water rescue policy after crews did not try to save a suicidal man who waded into San Francisco Bay and died after about an hour in the water.

On Memorial Day, fire crews and police watched as the unidentified 57-year-old man stood up to his neck in the frigid waters at Crown Memorial State Beach. All said they did not have the training to make a rescue attempt. The man's lifeless body was pulled out of the water about an hour later.       

Alameda Interim Fire Chief Mike D'Orazi said Tuesday he has directed staff to write a new policy that would allow commanders the discretion to make decisions concerning water rescues based on the circumstances. The policy change will go into effect as soon as all three time shifts are notified, according to the fire department.

"The department feels it was a deeply regrettable incident and will take steps immediately to make sure incident commanders have the discretion to make water rescue decisions based on the circumstances," D'Orazi stated.
The previous policy strictly forbade such attempts. It was implemented after budget cuts forced the department to discontinue water rescue training and stop maintaining wetsuits and other rescue gear.
Due to budget cuts in 2009, the department said its water rescue team was eliminated and rescue certification for Alameda firefighters lapsed. 

Starting Tuesday, D'Orazi said the department will begin to retrain their rescue swimmers, using equipment that the department still has.  D'Orazi added that in order to completely restore the rescue team, he will need more funding.

D'Orazi said he will be at Tuesday's city budget meeting and will ask for the funds.

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