A reporter for KTVU-TV said in his live report last night that a city staffer asked him to put a positive spin on the story of a man who drowned along the beach in Alameda on Monday while police and firefighters watched (click here to see that report). Maybe the most positive thing you could say is that the island community is very lucky this only happened once in the two years its fire department has been without a water rescue program.
As many of you have written in comments, now that someone has died and the public and the press are scrambling for answers, suddenly the political leaders care. The KTVU report also indicates the interim police chief is still defending the actions on Monday. Concerned about safely dealing with a suicidal man in the water, Chief Michael Noonan thinks they would still have had to wait to rescue Raymond Zack telling KGO-TV. "Could we have done more when the gentleman became unconscious? Certainly, there's that opportunity for us to have gone out and do more. We're looking at that."
The police chief's words are probably not what the citizens want to hear right now and won't do much to restore confidence in public safety. There are fewer excuses from the interim fire chief. Michael D'Orazi took over just a week ago and has made it clear this shouldn't have happened. But even Chief D'Orazi told reporters that while they are moving ahead with training for firefighters, buying a boat may be out of the question considering the city's serious budget problems (KTVU-TV's article details the money issues in Alameda).
You can't help but wonder if it will take another tragic situation before the elected leaders of Alameda realize it might be a priority for an island community to have a rescue boat.
In years past, the fire department had a comprehensive water rescue team, interim Fire Chief Michael D'Orazi said before the City Council tonight, a program that included shore-based and surface-based tactics.
But after several years of struggling to balance budgets and making sacrifices, D'Orazi said, the program deteriorated to a state that left firefighters unable to respond Monday, when Raymond Zack, 53, waded neck-deep into the frigid water at Crown Memorial Beach and remained there until he lost consciousness.
"We are absolutely going to do an investigation," Mayor Marie Gilmore said. "And we are planning to do it in as transparent a way as possible."
The death of Zack comes as city officials are considering axing up to nine police jobs and five positions at the fire department to make up a $7.4 million budget deficit.
"Obviously, we need to review any decisions that have been made in the past (about training) as we look at our current budget," Gilmore said.
D'Orazi said the fire department's water rescue program was shelved in March 2009 due to cuts. The loss of overtime also led to fewer training hours for firefighters, he said. As a result, department policy prevented firefighters from entering the water to help Zack, D'Orazi said.