ALAMEDA (CBS / AP) — A 50-year-old man waded into the San Francisco Bay, stood up to his neck and waited. A Coast Guard boat couldn’t get into the shallow water, and fire crews said they couldn’t rescue him because of a policy that strictly forbade such attempts.

Finally, a witness went in after him, pulling his lifeless body from the bay.

Alameda officials said Tuesday they’ll change the island city’s water rescue policy after the apparently suicidal man died in the 54-degree water.

Interim Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi called Monday’s incident troubling and said he directed staff to write a new policy that would allow commanders at the scene to attempt a water rescue in Alameda.

The previous policy was implemented after budget cuts forced the department to discontinue water rescue training and stop maintaining wetsuits and other rescue gear, D’Orazi said.

“The incident yesterday was deeply regrettable,” he said. “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.”

Fire crews and police watched as the man, identified by authorities only as an Alameda resident in his early 50s, stood up to his neck off Crown Memorial State Beach, witnesses told the television station. Perry Smith, another witness, said the man was visible from the shore and was looking at people.

A police official said the decision was difficult, but officers did not have 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,” Alameda police Lt. Sean Lynch said.

D’Orazi also said crews may have decided it was too risky to attempt the rescue, even if they had not been shackled by the restrictions on water rescues.

In addition to the new policy, Alameda fire personnel will receive training in water rescues, and rescue equipment will be inspected to make sure it is not damaged, D’Orazi said.

The Coast Guard was called to the scene, but the water was too shallow for a boat, according to Lynch. A Coast Guard helicopter was apparently not immediately available.

There are no lifeguards at the beach, said Isa Polt-Jones, a spokeswoman with the East Bay Regional Park District. Signs at the park advise swimmers to enter the water at their own risk.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

Comments (39)
  1. genomega1 says:

    One man did the right thing.

    1. penny says:

      Wrong, one woman did the right thing.

  2. oldfart says:

    fire the entire department, not one hero, not one person to take initiative, I bet if they hold their paycheck one day the entire department would be up in arms, seeking legal advice, holding picket signs, but wade out 1o feet into the bay and all they do is watch.

  3. Saddammit Hubert says:

    Hypothermia. Interesting way to commit suicide.

  4. Eric says:

    Why should the fire department risk there lives for someone that wanted to commit suicide.

    1. genomega1 says:

      I think you are missing the point here.

  5. mechanic says:

    I believe the guy was committing suicide, and did not care if he died? The other people would have tried to stop him if they could have. The “victim” succeeded in drowning his troubles away, anyway. Go figure(??)

  6. Nope not me says:

    not one said F it and jumped in anyway? really? guy might have wanted to die but…a witness who wasn’t being paid had to do the job?

    1. Fat Tony says:

      And that witness is a woman.

  7. Anthony says:

    It’s policy. It was way too dangerous for the fire fitghters and police officers to rescue someone out of waters that were too shallow for a boat. And an untrained witness went in and dragged his lifeless body out.

  8. Keith says:

    why aren’t my comments being posted?

  9. Keith says:

    why aren’t you posting my comments? did I say something you didn’t like?

  10. Keith says:

    is it because I said shame on all the cowards that stood there and didn’t do anything

  11. Where have all the heroes gone? says:

    Absolutely heartless. People who are suicidal are not well. They are not making a rationale decision because they are suffering from mental illness.

    How can any of these people sleep at night knowing they chose to let someone die out of self-interested fear.

    1. Luke says:

      This policy is made for a reason, odds aren’t on the rescuer’s side and in this situation more people could get hurt trying to save this guy. What good is a trained professional if he dies doing something that is out of his control?

  12. Daniel Burns says:

    The thing is if they want to die and you try to save them they can sue you. That is what’s wrong.

    1. Big D says:

      California has the Good Samaritan Law which protects anyone from being sued for trying to save and/or help another person.

  13. VOODOO says:

    such heros we have
    not one fireman would be human enough to pull him out
    sad, just sad, and to just watch is sick, just sick,

    1. duh says:

      They were employing conservation of effort by letting the tide push him back in.

  14. acreccsucks says:

    Difficult situation. But people die in Alameda County on a regular basis because Fire and Medical help is not dispatched in a timely manner, is sent to the wrong address or other dispatch errors, and nobody is investigating. Why is that?

  15. Keith Chamberlain says:

    shame on the Alameda fire department and the Police department. Heartless. This article makes me sick. No heroes in Alameda

  16. Allen5ive says:

    It is very dangerous to try and save someone from drowning if that person does not want to be saved. Think about it, could you swim with this idiot trying to pull you down with him?

    1. genomega1 says:

      Yes I could and anyone who has ever been a life guard could.

      1. duh says:

        It is even more dangerous trying to save someone who does not want to be saved. Most of the time when people are drowning they WANT help. This person did not want help. Too bad you were not there to save him, you have your superswimmer merit badge, right?

  17. Bill O says:

    A cheap rowboat or shallow draft motorboat is not a dangerous method for rescue. How stupid is Alameda County for not having a $100 craft on hand?

  18. melgrefe says:

    Shame on all that stood by because of budget. What about humanity? My husband and I have seriously considered buying a home in Alameda. No longer. When does money come before life, and when in such an obvious choice?

    Someone could have at least tried…. they said he was there for an hour…. lots could have been done.

  19. Jodi says:

    It is about a human life not about budget cuts. Put all rules aside, they should have saved this person. I hope these awful people cannot sleep at night. I support collective bargaining but I will think twice about these God awful human beings. They don’t deserve any love.

  20. Jodi says:

    How much money did they waste standing around doing nothing. That is a serious waste of money there.

    1. Al in Alameda says:

      If they weren’t doing that, they would have just been grocery shopping.

  21. Marge says:

    I live in Alameda and am ashamed. Shame, shame, shame on the fire department. No one hero. Not one. Would they have let a child drown? Hmmm. If not, then we treat human beings differently? Hmmm – lots of soul searching to to in Alameda.

    1. Al in Alameda says:

      If it were a child, I betcha they would have gone in. But a child in distress is a lot different than some 6’3″ 280 lb playing polar bear in the water.

  22. Ken Riley says:

    Fire Chief say budget cuts to TRAINING prohibited firemen from saving the man.
    It was revealed that 6 of the 9 firemen on site were PREVIOUSLY TRAINED.
    This is an obvious case of UNION firemen not performing the basic task of attempting to save a life because of politics.
    If they were previously trained, why didn’t they use their skills?
    Would they have watched a woman or child die?
    Why didn’t their human instinct of helping someone take over?
    They could have at least faked that they were attempting to save the man.
    The firemen say the water was too shallow for a boat and they did not have a wetsuit.
    A young woman went out and retrieved the body. She did NOT have a wetsuit or boat.

    1. Al in Alameda says:

      “They could have at least faked that they were attempting to save the man.”

      That’s classic.

  23. Berry Belmont says:

    It is virtually impossible to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved in the water. Without wetsuits and lifelines, it would be too dangerous an undertaking, and trained personnel would recognize that. It’s not about heroism – although lot’s of armchair quarterbacks think it would be easy. More than one person dying would have been an even greater tragedy.

    As far as someone jumping in to pull a lifeless body out – that’s a totally different thing, and virtually meaningless in reality.

    If we can learn anything from this, it’s that we should at least have the right equipment available.

  24. Emt1 says:

    9 firefighters / paramedics stood and watched a man die. In SF two firefighters gave ALL that they could give. The alameda firefighters should be fired and their pensions should be given to the sf guys families. At least they understand what it takes to be a real hero. By the way, my 9 year old goes out that far in the water and all he wears are floaties on his arms. I guess he’s overqualified to be an Alameda firefighter.

  25. Sandy Palamar says:

    I have tried to see both sides of this situation, really trying to picture myself being there at that time. And, when I got right down to it… I would have tried to organize a group to go out to him, myself included, plan the best we could to bring him in. Remember, there were trained firemen there who could have used their skills, along with volunteers.
    The fire depts. go in all the time into situations that endanger their lives. On 9/11 they knew the hellhole they were walking into. Yes, they were ordered to do so, but as a previous commenter said, at what point do you say, the heck with this, we’ve got to do something!

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