Bay of Alameda
The cold Pacific waters make rescue dangerous. Image: mashleymorgan/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A team of firefighters and about 75 spectators watched a man drown in frigid waters in San Francisco Monday. The first responders were strictly forbidden by police to attempt a rescue, which was deemed too dangerous in the frigid water.

Man was reportedly suicidal

The man, Raymond Zack, who was 52 or 53, walked into the 54-degree water up to his neck at about 11:30 a.m. on Memorial Day. He stood there until he lost consciousness and drowned. The water was too shallow for a U.S. Coast Guard boat to attempt a rescue.

Eye-witness Sharon Brunetti told reporters that Zack’s stepmother had asked her to call 911. The stepmother told her that Zack had threatened to commit suicide. Brunetti further commented that Zack had “gradually inched out farther and farther,” occasionally glancing back at the shore.

Spectators gather with safety personnel

Police, Coast Guard personnel and about 75 spectators stood on the beach and watched the for nearly an hour. An unidentified 20-year-old woman finally entered the water and dragged Zack’s lifeless body to the shore. Some reports say the unidentified woman was an off-duty nurse.

Alameda police Lt. Sean Lynch said police officers lacked the gear for the cold water and couldn’t risk being pulled under. “Certainly this was tragic, but police officers are tasked with ensuring public safety, including the safety of personnel who are sent to try to resolve these kinds of situations.”

Water rescues cut from budget

Water rescue and water rescue training was dropped two years ago by the Alameda Fire Department because of recession budget cuts.

“The incident yesterday was deeply regrettable,” said Interim Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi. “But I can also see it from our firefighters’ perspective. They’re standing there wanting to do something, but they are handcuffed by policy at that point.” D’Orazi has since directed his staff to write a new policy covering water rescues.

City responds to complaints

After receiving a flood of complaints Tuesday, the city of San Francisco appropriated $20,000 to $40,000 to train 16 firefighters in land-based water rescue training.



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