Moral Low Ground


Budget Cuts Force Alameda, California Police & Firefighters to Watch Raymond Zack Drown Himself

June 1, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Economy with 14 Comments

Alameda, California, a suburb of Oakland and San Francisco, is an island city. As such, it is surrounded on all sides by water. Yet when a suicidal man waded out into the San Francisco Bay from the city’s Crown Beach on Monday, police and firefighters lacked the necessary resources to save him. They, along with scores of bystanders, stood by and watched as the man, 53-year-old Raymond Zack, succumbed to the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay and drowned.

According to KGO-7, authorities had no choice but to let the man die. The Alameda Fire Department claims that budget cuts have prevented it from re-certifying personnel in land-based water rescues. Without that certification, the city is unprotected against any potential lawsuits. So it could be said that in addition to budget cuts, America’s overly litigious society killed Raymond Zack.

Or perhaps all the people who just stood there and watched are to blame.

“I thought it was kind of weird that they weren’t going out to bring the guy in, you know, he was out there, his head was above water, he was looking at everybody, there was plenty of time for them to react,” witness Perry Smith told KGO-7.

The water where the man was standing, some 150 yards (137 meters) off shore, was too shallow for a Coast Guard rescue boat, and a helicopter was unavailable.

“We’re not trained to go into the water, obviously the type of gear that we have on, we don’t have the type of equipment that you would use to go into the water,” Alameda Police Lt. Joe McNiff  told KGO-7.

After Zack died, firefighters couldn’t even go into the water to retrieve his body. A young woman volunteered to do that.

“It’s horrible,” witness Gary Barlow told KGO-7. “How can we let that happen? How can our emergency personnel allow that to happen? I don’t get it, I don’t understand it.”

The whole mess started when Zack’s mother called Alameda police to inform them that he was going to try to kill himself. Shortly thereafter, he waded out into the chilly bay waters off Crown Beach. For more than an hour he stood there and looked back at everyone looking at him. One can only wonder what he was thinking regarding why police and firefighters were just standing on the shore and watching without attempting to rescue him.

Alameda Fire Division Chief Ricci Zombeck told KGO-7 that if he was off duty things would have been different. “Well, if I was off duty I would know what I would do, but I think you’re asking me my on-duty response and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures because that’s what’s required by our department to do,” he said when asked if he would go into the water to save a drowning child.

Alameda fire officials told KGO-7 that they will have “a serious discussion” as to why an island city lacks sufficient resources to rescue people in danger in the water.

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  1. JoelJune 1, 2011 at 5:10 pmReply

    The firefighters who stood by and watched this man commit suicide are pigs and disgusting human beings. They couldn’t even retrieve his dead body? And then they used this as a reason for more money? Are you kidding me? They already make way too much. They should all be fired and lose their enormous pensions. THEY ARE TO BLAME, not society, budget cuts, or anything else being mentioned. I am angry and sad and sick.

    • MikeJune 2, 2011 at 10:07 amReply

      Joel, you are a ill informed jackass. If you read the article before opening your mouth and spewing forth the most ridiculous comment I ever read you will notice they did it for there own safety due to the MENTAL INSTABILITY OF THE PERSON IN THE WATER. Idiot.

      • Brett WilkinsJune 2, 2011 at 10:20 amReplyAuthor

        I want to know since when did concerns about getting sued trump saving lives? Joel has a very valid point, and your comment does not address the fact that they wouldn’t even go into the water to retrieve the body. What harm could a dead mentally unstable person do to anyone?

        • Adam TompkinsJune 2, 2011 at 10:48 amReply

          Concerns for getting sued did not “trump saving lives,” as you so eloquently put it. This man was clearly set on harming himself and before he perished, one only knows what may have happened had the rescuers attempted a removal without the proper tools or personnel. The fact is that emergency services have guidelines and procedures in place to protect their own employees. Police, Fire and EMS, despite what you may ignorantly believe, ARE NOT permitted to haphazardly risk their OWN lives for victims who are clearly not savable. Civilians tend to let their emotions get the best of them when witnessing emergency situations and feel that emergency workers are required to make a rescue of a person, no matter what the cost or conditions of the environment around them, some even actually causing more harm by trying to effect a rescue in vain by themselves. PD, FD, and EMS are paid to make these decisions, so before you bash, get out of the “tunnel vision” mode and be an advocate for emergency workers to have the resources they need to perform their jobs…because I doubt you could ever do what they do day in and out.

          • Brett WilkinsJune 2, 2011 at 11:53 amAuthor

            Um, the guy was STANDING in about five feet of water. You’re telling me that big, burly firemen and police officers couldn’t have dealt with that? The police certainly have no problem kicking ass when they feel like it, I don’t see how this guy placed any of their lives in danger.

          • Space JunkieJune 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

            Adam, you’ve been de-balled by your own bureaucratic, union values. I know 5 people in my own neighborhood who’d do your job for quite a bit less money and perks. Hell, a 20 year old girl did what those slobs wouldn’t…all because of politics. For shame. And deep down inside you know you’re wrong.

      • Space JunkieJune 2, 2011 at 12:49 pmReply

        Mike, your argument is toast, much like your brain cells. No representative ever said that it was because of “the instability of the person”…No one. They all said it was do to budget cuts. Unless you’ve got someone backing your statement up, it’s probably best to shut up. With respect….kind of.

    • Space JunkieJune 2, 2011 at 12:52 pmReply

      Agreed, Joel. Mike and Adam below are just union slobs with no balls, creativity or gumption…it’s so obvious.

      • Adam TompkinsJune 3, 2011 at 6:16 amReply

        Once again, you all let emotion get the best of you and cannot step back and see the real situation. Five feet of water?? Clearly the article states he was 150 yards away from the beach in frigid waters, enough to kill him, so do you think without the proper resources the ocean would not have killed another poor soul as well? And Junkie, I’m sure I can walk around my neighborhood and find more than just a few morons who can come do your job for much less as well. By the way, how do YOU feed your family?

        • Brett WilkinsJune 3, 2011 at 9:28 amReplyAuthor

          It was 150 yards off shore, off Alameda on the shallow side of the San Francisco Bay (average depth 6 ft. for the whole bay). All the reports say he was standing with his head above water watching everyone watching him. I live on the San Francisco Bay; you can walk very far out. The most dangerous aspect was the temperature. If this had been the Caribbean, the guy wouldn’t have died from what he did.

          • Adam TompkinsJune 3, 2011 at 10:36 am

            As I stated, the water was perilous enough to kill him, so who is to say it would not have killed anyone else who didn’t have the proper equipment to enter these deadly waters? Dry suits, Immersion suits, Zodiac boats, rescue boards. That is equipment used to make rescues from water areas…Not every individual fire company is equipped with these types of tools needed to effect a water rescue. Alameda City should be, but it is no fault of the Fire Department. So how do you justify potentially losing another human life when they are not even given the means to effect a rescue that they should have been able to perform? And even if the water was warm enough to disregard department protocol, and simply make a swim for him, can you tell me whether the victim will be combative or unwilling to be saved to the point that it causes harm to the rescuer, perhaps the rescuer drowning as well? I doubt it. The bottom line is anybody who was not there in the position of a rescuer does not know the entire story.

    • NATEJune 4, 2011 at 12:12 amReply



  2. acreccsucksJune 29, 2011 at 6:05 pmReply

    ACFD Dispatch contributed to this failure also, and it’s not the first time. Over the last 6 years or so HUNDREDS of dispatch incidents have been screwed up. It’s high time dispatch management and ACFD Chief Gilbert resign in disgrace.

  3. Doug Rockey USMCDecember 26, 2011 at 10:04 amReply


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