Questions Remain About Calls for Help in Alameda Drowning

Agencies in statement say they were never called to provide mutual aid help


ANGELA WOODHALL, Contra Cosat Times | | Monday, June 6, 2011


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Questions remain about how Alameda city firefighters and police officers handled efforts to rescue a distraught man intent on taking his own life, including whether they asked for help from other local agencies with the equipment and training to assist.

In a statement released Monday, the Alameda Police Department said they asked multiple agencies for aid, including the Alameda County Fire Department, Alameda County Sheriff's Department, Oakland fire and police departments, and the East Bay Regional Park Police District, but received none.

"These agencies were unable to provide any additional rescue capabilities," the statement said.

But the agencies referred to in the statement said they were never called on to provide mutual aid to help rescue Raymond Zack, who waded into the waters off Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda on Memorial Day.

Witnesses said Zack entered the water about 11:30 a.m. and that police were at the scene quickly. Police requested help, according to the statement, after efforts by the Coast Guard to reach the scene failed. The Coast Guard boat sent to the beach couldn't get closer than a mile of Zack because the water was too shallow.

The Coast Guard could have sent a swimmer into the water to rescue him. But the swimmer has to be attached to a tether, which could not reach more than 75 feet from the boat and that was still too far away from Zack, Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Marcus Brown said. A Coast Guard helicopter that had been dispatched took an hour and five minutes to arrive because it had been on another call, forcing the pilot to return to the airfield in San Francisco to refuel. The Coast Guard then had to request permission to enter the airspace of the Oakland International Airport.

By then, Zack already was floating face down in the water.

"There was not a single request from Alameda fire or police," Alameda County Fire deputy chief David Lord said late Thursday afternoon. He oversees the communication center and water rescue missions.

The Alameda County Fire Department keeps two rescue boats outfitted with state-of-the-art navigation, communication and rescue equipment in San Leandro on a trailer ready to be deployed when needed, along with specially trained personnel. Another two smaller inflatable rescue boats can be dispatched. Traditionally, a water rescue response in the Bay includes two engines, two rescue boats and a battalion chief at minimum.

But, Alameda police did call the county fire department dispatch center at 11:34 a.m. Monday to ask if the Coast Guard was responding to the call for a watercraft, Lord said. Dispatch called the Coast Guard to confirm. Alameda police called back to ask if a boat was available in Alameda.

The Alameda County Fire Department dispatcher said none was in Alameda but there was one available in San Leandro. It was, however, not in the water.

"That is not a request to respond," Lord said. Neither police nor fire could readily provide a timeline.

Alameda police dispatchers also called the Alameda County Sheriff's Office but did not request aid, sheriff's spokesman J.D. Nelson said Friday. Dispatchers asked if the sheriff's marine unit was on patrol duty. After being told that it was not, the Alameda dispatcher hung up, Nelson said.

"At no time did they tell us the situation they were facing," Nelson said.

Nor did the police dispatcher ask for assistance from the marine patrol unit, the search and rescue squad or the dive team -- all maintained by the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office also have Jet Skis that could have been used had they been requested.

They may not have been in time, though, because it would have taken up to an hour to get a boat and pilot out on the water, he said.

Alameda police later called the Oakland Fire Department asking for one of about a dozen vessels of varying sizes kept in or near the estuary that would have been equipped to respond to the emergency. But firefighters didn't receive the call until 12:30 p.m., according to Eleanor Bolin-Chew, deputy chief of operations.

The call was canceled four minutes later, Bolin-Chew said.

Minutes earlier, a young woman had gone into the water and pulled Zack out. He died a short later at a hospital.

Berkeley, Oakland and San Mateo have dedicated water rescue teams. In addition, Richmond and Redwood City fire departments train each firefighters for water rescue.

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Policy Change After California Drowning

Calif. Fire and Police Watch as Man Drowns

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