Report Finds Alameda Fire Failed to Say Water Rescue Program No Longer Existed Before Drowning

Sept. 30, 2011 | A long-awaited report investigating the drowning of an Alameda resident at Crown Beach last Memorial Day forcefully criticized the city’s fire and police department as disorganized in their response and woefully unaware of each others policies and capabilities.

“Not providing public safety personnel with the tools and training necessary to respond to water emergencies, in a city surrounded by water, place the employees in unsafe and precarious situations,” said the report written by a former state fire chief. “It is a formula for failure.”

The drowning and possible suicide of Raymond Zack gained national news and a modicum of civic embarrassment for the East Bay island community when public safety officials appeared to residents to be doing nothing in response to the over-300 pound man wading in shallow water 200 yards from the beach.

Days later it was revealed the city’s water rescue program and rescue swimmer program had been cut a few years earlier without much public notice. According to the report, though, the disappearance of the program’s is unclear and effectively hits a dead end after a March 16, 2009 fire department bulletin was issued calling for the rescue swimmers program to be put on hold. It was to be rescheduled in the next 30 to 45 days, but that never occurred. “No documentation could be found to determine why the training did not happen,” said the report.

The report is also critical of the fire department’s inability to effectively communicate the status of the water rescue programs to the City Council and community before the tragic drowning last May, noting “water rescues” continued to be part of the department’s budget even after its elimination.
One of the more damning sections of the report, authored by former state fire chief Ruben Grijalva, describes gross disorganization between fire and police commanders on the scene as how to coordinate a rescue.

According to the report, police officials first on the scene were unaware the fire department’s water rescue program had been discontinued two years earlier. It also criticizes the fire’s initial response to police as “uncooperative and inappropriate” and laid the groundwork for further disorganization as the rescue attempt continued and ultimately failed.

The Alameda City Council, which, released the 67-page report Thursday, will discuss its finding during a meeting Oct. 11.