Ex-California Fire Marshal To Investigate Alameda Drowning

ALAMEDA (CBS SF) — The city of Alameda has chosen a former state fire marshal to conduct an independent review of the drowning of a suicidal man at Crown Beach on Memorial Day.

Chief Ruben Grijalva, who has also served as director of Cal Fire, was asked to take a detailed look at the factors contributing to the death of 52-year-old Raymond Zack and the city’s response to the drowning so far, City Manager John Russo said.

The city’s leadership and policies came under attack after it came to light that police and fire rescuers stood around for about an hour while Zack waded into the frigid water off Crown Beach and lost consciousness.

Grijalva is expected to finish his inquiry by late September and will present his findings to the City Council at an open meeting, Russo said.

“He’s got a very strong reputation in the field,” he said. “He’s seen as tough, fair and independent.”

Grijalva started his career in 1976 with the city of Sunnyvale, which has one integrated department of public safety instead of separate police and fire departments, Russo said.

He then served as assistant fire chief and then chief of the Palo Alto Fire Department from 1990 to 2004, when he was appointed state fire marshal. Between 2006 and 2009 he oversaw Cal Fire, and now he is the CEO of a public safety consulting firm called FireChiefs.com.

“We wanted somebody who had experience in both police and fire,” Russo said.

The Alameda Fire Department said after the drowning that crews hadn’t been trained in water surface rescue and could do nothing but stand by as a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was delayed responding to the incident.

The city has since reinstituted the training and changed its policies so that commanders can send in rescuers.

Grijalva’s review will include a detailed chronology of the drowning and the policies that dictated rescuers’ responses, as well as a look at whether the city’s actions to date are enough to prevent future tragedies.

“The city has promised me full access to all their documents and employees,” Grijalva said in a statement.

“I intend to be fair and frank in my report. At the end of this process, Alamedans can decide for themselves which steps should be taken to rebuild public confidence in their public safety officers.”

Grijalva will be conducting the review on his own, Russo said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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