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Delays Revealed In Rescuing Longshoreman At Port Of Oakland

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A diver goes under at the Port of Oakland in search of a submerged vehicle. (CBS)

A diver goes under at the Port of Oakland in search of a submerged vehicle. (CBS)

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OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Nearly a week after a longshoreman’s body was found inside his sunken pickup at the Port of Oakland, authorities reveal there were numerous delays in the efforts to rescue him.

The longshoreman was in his truck when it plunged into San Francisco Bay on Friday afternoon. The Coast Guard called the San Francisco Fire Department for help, the closest rescue dive team.

“In the meantime, there were some telephone calls according to the history that were made to headquarters for approval. It appears that’s where it kind of stalled,” said Floyd Robbins of the San Francisco Firefighters’ Union.

According to dispatch transcripts, the Coast Guard requested help from San Francisco Fire Department divers at 1:55 p.m. At 2:03 p.m., the Fire Department division chief is getting approval from headquarters. Fifteen minutes later at 2:18 p.m., the divers were still not approved yet.

At 2:37 p.m., the divers were finally approved to go, 42 minutes after the first call for help. By then, the Port of Oakland had sent in one of its divers, who was trained to only inspect the wharf and not to make rescues. He recovers the body, but they were not able to revive the longshoreman.

“You know, it’s basically the fact that our neighbor called for help. So yeah, there’s a lot of people who are wondering why it took so long for approval to come,” Robbins said.

The fire officials blamed it on confusion from the dispatches. It was not clear if it was a rescue or a recovery, and at one point Oakland canceled the call for help.

“I think the biggest problem is that we had misinformation at first,” said San Francisco Assistant Fire Chief Mark Gonzales. “If we got the indication that it was a rescue, they should have went right away and you know it’s unfortunate. I feel really bad.”

To make matters worse, the rescue dive team was directed to the wrong pier to get their transport to the scene.

“They went to the fireboat pier first. They figured they could find a faster boat by meeting the police boat at a separate pier. That’s the procedure that we want to tighten up,” Gonzales said.

It all added up to a series of delays that frustrated the rescue team.

“You want to get there, you want to help. There is a life on the line and this is what we do,” Robbins said.

Headquarters agreed that procedures bogged them down and that needs improvement.

“We have to tighten up how we can get this thing going faster and just get going, get out in the water. And we’ll figure out the other idiosyncrasies later,” Gonzales said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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