On the cusp of Memorial Day weekend — and the one-year anniversary of the death of Raymond Zack, the man who died in the cold waters off Crown Beach while dozens of firemen, police officers and park visitors watched from shore — City of Alameda officials want people to know it won't happen again.
In a press briefing Monday, Fire Chief Mike D'Orazi and Police Chief Mike Noonan talked about the steps that the city has taken to rebuild its water rescue program, improve its communications and smooth out the working relationship between the two departments, including:
- Two water rescue boats in operation:
- Over 100 first responders trained and certified as rescue swimmers, boat operators and/or lifeguards — mainly Alameda fire Department personnel, but some police officers as well;
- Suicide intervention training (police) and crisis intervention training (fire);
- Incident management training for command officers and supervisors;
- Cross-training between the two departments and with other regional agencies involved in water rescue;
- A $25,000 annual budget for fire department water rescue expenses.
Those steps have paid off, D'Orazi said, during the Alameda Fire Department's 23 water rescue operations during the past year — many more than he could recall in previous years, even when the AFD water rescue program was in full operation.
"We can't change what took place," he said, "but we can make sure it doesn't happen again.
"It comes down to trust. We put a deficit in that trust bank with the community."
What D'Orazi and Noonan wouldn't talk about in any detail was Zack's death on May 30, 2011, when the reportedly suicidal 52-year-old man waded into the water and lost consciousness about a half-hour later as Alameda fire and police personnal stood by, waiting for the arrival of a U.S. Coast Guard rescue boat. That boat could not reach Zack in the relatively shallow water, and his body was eventually brought to shore by a civilian bystander. Zack's family has instituted legal action against the city.
The AFD's water rescue program had lapsed, its boats in disrepair and its rescue swimmers uncertified for lack of recent training. Under AFD's written polciies, uncertified swimmers were not allowed to enter the water to attempt rescue operations. (That policy is standard to virtually all agencies with water rescue programs in California.) D'Orazi said there was also concern that Zack might have a gun with him in the water.
The lack of action took a toll on department personnel, D'Orazi acknowledged. He said the department now has a critical incident stress team that offers debriefing and peer support after incidents with "a bad outcome."
Click here for a look at the past year's Alameda Patch coverage of the drowning, the reactions of Alameda citizens, an independent consultant's report on the incident and the rebuilding of the water rescue program.