Memorial Day Drowning 'Won't Happen Again'

City officials talk about the rebuilding of Alameda's water rescue program

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.

Jon Spangler May 22, 2012 at 05:27 PM
"We can't change what took place," he said, "but we can make sure it doesn't happen again." - AFD Chief Mike D'Orazi Raymond Zack's death was a terrible tragedy. "Never again" is an entirely appropriate response to it. We can all be greatly encouraged that Alameda has new leadership in both emergency services departments and in the City Manager's office as well as new policies and programs in place since last year. Vigilantly supporting those new policies and programs as well as the people implementing them will help ensure that, at least in some small measure, Raymond Zack's death was not entirely in vain.
Cabforles May 22, 2012 at 05:29 PM
When will action be taken, for those who were responsible
alameda vigilante May 22, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Really? We're still talking about Zack firing an underwater gun? Come on, D'Orazi! Let us not forget that water rescue programs are primarily directed at rescuing people who fell out of watercraft or swimmers in distress-Zack was neither of these! How he came to lose consciousness in the water and the police did not protect their 5150 has never been satisfactorily explained. I want to hear more about the Suicide & Crisis Intervention Training & I hope D'Orazi & Noonan have had to undergo it themselves, or I have little confidence this won't happen again.
Chuck May 22, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Action seems to have already been take with those that were responsible for defunding the water rescue program and ordering that no AFD personnel go into the water. They are gone: Ann Marie Gallant and Dave Kapler.
joel May 22, 2012 at 11:32 PM
It will happen again that is a sad fact! Why because , the firefighters have only one interest in mind their own. they could have walked grabb him one way or another , restrain him with the net the cops have in the cruiser , in short rendering Him arrmless ... waiting for him to flip over due to hypothermia and drown while watching from the top of the fire truck is reprehensible . Having a small women bring the body to shore while they were looking is obscene , that what you get when you have out of town firefighters in for the paycheck only , please joint me again this year to boo them for the 4th of july parade . Don't forget to vote no on C , there is no accountability , it will make our City unsafe the Political branch of the firefighters said . They made the same claim before the sordid Zach Nurder , when you are qualified trained and paid to rescue people , but refuse to render aid to anyone in Danger it is Murder regardless which piece of paper you are hidding behind. By the way all good residfents which disagree with me , Captain Weaver went on the record by saying the reason Firemen did not leave in Alameda on a $ 250 000 salary mind you , is because they could not afford it , but they can afford Alamo , Fairfield , San Ramon and the like none are cheap real estate . most of them have a second job as well . Do you make $ 250 000 if yes vote for C if not vote no on C , 3/4 of Alameda do not earn 1/2 their paycheck.
joel May 22, 2012 at 11:35 PM
My mistake it will not happen again because they need good PR to support measure C , after ? that is another game!
Mari May 23, 2012 at 02:30 AM
It was a dreadful event. May it never happen again, nor anything like it.
JSPound May 24, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Maybe that is why there will be another re-enactment this Saturday the 26th, at 4 PM, to keep this awful tragedy in people's memory. And why has there never been an apology from the Union? It wasn't just the fault of one person.
Inconvenient Truth July 05, 2012 at 09:41 PM
As long as the citizens of Alameda keep believing this propaganda, it will happen again and you will continue to be under the control of a corrupt and incompetent fire department. The important thing to note is that the fire department has an additional $25,000 of your money on an annual basis. The "police chief" is nothing more than a cardboard cutout of a person with a wind up knob on its back that moves its mouth whenever the city council winds it up. This buffoon couldn't make a decision to save his own life. You better believe this will happen again.
joel July 05, 2012 at 10:31 PM
I will strongly disagree with your statement on the Police Chief , without the Alameda PD , this City will have been turned into an Oakland suburb a long time ago , their presence is the only repellent again the trash from the other side , sadly most at City Hall do not endorse them , to the contrary , they simply want to turn this City into a low income City .... Then they cry restaurant at South Shore can't make it so they bring in , Yes food truck to further cut into their business . As far as the Alameda Firefighters , we should turn them over to Oakland , no difference without Oakland's Fire fighters they can do nothing , they call it mutual aid . We call it save my rear to remain civil. Oh yes driving around removing the No on C signs , and yes I do have photos. To get back to the tragic death of Raymond Zach , they only had to remove their jacket and they would have been civilian , therefore free from the garbage they are pupping us , Even if they had failed they could not have been sued under the good samaritan law .


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