First responders watch as man drowns

June 1, 2011

First responders watched as a man drowned in the San Francisco Bay because policies did not allow them to enter the water. [CNN]

The man was apparently suicidal, entered the bay off Alameda Beach on Monday and stood in neck-deep water, then treaded water.  Police and firefighters were called to the scene. They watched from the bank as the man drowned.

City officials said that police did not want first responders to enter the water in case the man was armed. In addition, Alameda officials told CNN that because of a lack of funding for shore-to-water rescue, firefighters had no one properly trained to go into the water.

Following the man’s death, Alameda changed its policies regarding water rescues.

The events of Memorial Day were “very difficult and very regrettable,” Alameda Interim Fire Chief Michael D’Orazi told CNN Wednesday.

The firefighters on the beach “were incredibly frustrated by this whole situation,” he said, adding that “they wanted to get in, they wanted to take action.”

A woman ultimately tried to save the drowning man, but was too late, and ended up pulling his body to shore, CNN said.

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To become a hero is a great gift. Makes you feel good all under. Don’t need to have anyone thank you or pat you on the back or even to talk about what you did. You are helping your brother, or sister in Christ. God expects you to reach out in compassion and love to help another in trouble. Hopefully we are all hero’s for each other.

To become humble doing God’s work that is what we are about. That’s how we roll, as they say. I feel very disappointed and sad that these firemen didn’t get to experience those feelings of pure satisfaction and oneness with our fellow man while doing God’s work. Must have been horrible for them to make the choice of doing nothing. Not the reason they became firemen.

I think firemen are hero’s naturally. They are born with a very special gene that all of us don’t have or it is so hidden sometimes it just can’t come out when needed. That’s me. I have at times been a pure coward. Didn’t want to take the chance of being hurt. I remember 35 years ago backing out when I was needed and have never forgotten it. I do have a million excuses for my actions but none make me feel better. I am no better than the firemen that watched that poor guy die. I am not throwing the first stone.

I have had many occasions to make up for it but it still hurts even after I did the right thing. Oh well, God is good and forgives us when we ask. So I’m asking for myself and those firemen. Although I don’t think it was fear that kept those firemen on the shore. Only they know the reasons.

Leave to the women guys. They are the true hero’s anyway. In my opinion.

After being married for over 45 years she has proven to me how much of a hero she is and has always been. Thank you Jesus for your gift of women to us all. Hope I can live up to your expectations and be a hero whenever needed.

“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”

Edmund Burke

Some of the responders may have been afraid of losing their jobs. If they have kids, especially in this economy, and especially if their financial position is tenuous, they may have seen it as a choice between risking homelessness for their kids or saving someone who attempted suicide.

But still…there is always the possibility of getting another job. There is no possibility of getting another life.

It was a Sophie’s Choice. There is no good choice.

Mary, None of these guys would have lost their job. Even if one was fired the civil service board would have ordered the person reinstated. The worst that would have happened was someone loosing a promotion or being demoted a rank. In all likelihood, a letter of reprimand would be given or a possible 3 day suspension.

The old school guys would have saved the life and faced the consequences with pride and fortitude.

In the end, the public outcry of someone being fired for saving a life by breaking a rule would have the public and political support to avoid getting fired, and the policy would have been changed for the better as a result.

This man did not have to die while being watched by emergency responders standing around hiding behind excuses.

The guys in Alameda deserve every bit of shame they’re getting.

This is a bunch of crap. Screw the “policies” when a human life is at stake!

Those first responders would still have had to make a decision whether or not their own lives would be put at too high of a risk if they attempted the rescue given the circumstances at the scene. But to not attempt a rescue based on a concern of whether or not it was allowed by their respective agency smacks strongly of cowardice — and a deeply screwed-up agency.

It is a sad statement on our society that the first thought by the officials was that the victim posed a threat to the responders. It is a sadder state of affairs that there was at least a 50-50 chance they were right.

I don’t understand how a city like Alameda,which sits on the edge of SF Bay doesn’t train its firefighters for water rescues? Don’t they have lifeguards? Shoot, even a podunk town like Morro Bay or Pismo trains its firefighters for water rescues. Alameda City not just the fire department should be hanging its head in shame.

As for being sued, nothing on God’s green earth can keep someone from suing you. Blame the sheister lawyers in this country for this overly cautionary attitude.

Frankly, anyone trying to commit suicide — or committing any crime — should not be able to sue the people who try to save or arrest them.

That’s just plain rude.

I saw some TV news coverage tonight & one of the firefighters sat in the city meeting with his head down, teary-eyed and ashamed. He and the other so-called “first responders” watched a man die and it took an HOUR. I can’t imagine seeing some guy thrashing in the water for 60 minutes and standing there, doing zero. Paso_Guy was so right. If it were a dog or another animal, they would’ve helped immediately.

Kudos to the brave WOMAN who waded in, risked her own life and tried to do the right thing.

At least it is nice to know that SHAME still exists. I thought it had left the building long ago.

I hope that any of these first responders have the shame they should have; and more importantly, DEAL with it, and possibly get some things changes so it does not happen again. Let the whole process work itself through.

Unfortunately, our society often does not let shame exist, nor let it trigger a possible common sense epiphany.

Interesting point, roy. Very well said. Sad but so true.

My first response to the story was, “Heck, I’d phone in to the precinct, tell them I was going on a 15-minute health leave, take off my uniform, pull the guy to shore where the uniformed responders could get to work, put on my uniform, then call the precinct back and tell them I was back on duty.

At the time, they may have been choosing between doing what their gut instincts told them to do and keeping their job. What may have seemed like the right choice at the time, when they had to live with the choice they made, the burden turned out heavier than they anticipated.

Again, it’s a Sophie’s Choice. There are no good choices.

You know I see a few of the firefighter defenders coming up with a bunch of stories trying (DESPERATELY) to defend these actions.

This reminds me of a situtation on the flip side from law inforcement. The year 1999. City…. Colombine, CO.

S.W.A.T reponders would not enter school and engage because it was to dangerous. Don’t believe me look it up!!

So the line I am drawing between these two is this. We all (posters) have read and comment on some of the OBSCENE compensation packages of both of these professions in the last year. Of course all the defenders say dangerous job and they are there to save our ass!! Well DEFENDERS here is two examples where they FAILED MISERABLLY!!!!! They complain and ask for more money, speacial vehicles, training etc. And what did the taxpayerer get in return in what I showed?? SCREWED!!!

I too was thinking about the Colombine tragedy. Before Colombine I had witness the same lack of police action on a smaller scale with the practice of containment and wait for SWAT. Too many times this standard practice had failed the victim. Because of the Colombine massacre authorities now allow police officers to engage active shooters when lives are threatened.

The point? Why do the people sworn to protect and serve, wait until lives have been lost before returning to the practice of common sense in response to public outcry? Why must our public safety authorities keep learning this same lesson over and over? When will our government learn from its past mistakes and stop repeating history!


Anyone surprised? There are lots of policies like this, many for good reason, but all are the result of lawyers, litigation and regulation.

Example: Bee sting victim with severe anaphylaxis. Firefighter/EMT has personal epinephrine injector prescribed to him/her by physician. An EMT-I is not allowed to administer injections (in most jurisdictions), and cannot administer medication outside of protocol or medication not prescribed to patient. Victim dies.

Example: Choking victim. Firefighter/EMT can perform BLS measures like Heimlich, but is not allowed to perform field tracheotomy. Victim dies.

Example: Suicide attempt with lacerated neck, severe carotid artery bleeding. Firefighter/EMT is allowed to apply direct pressure, but not allowed to enter the wound to clamp the artery as that would be an invasive surgical procedure. Victim dies.

Example: Late-term gravid female (viable fetus) with obvious signs of death (brain matter exposed) and extended transport time. Firefighter/EMT nor paramedic is allowed to perform field cesarian section. Fetus dies.

Example: Vehicle with multiple occupants veers off roadway into flowing canal. Firefighter uses breathing apparatus not designed for underwater use to dive into dangerous swift water situation and rescues child from vehicle. Child survives with brain damage. Firefighter disciplined and policy prohibiting use of breathing apparatus for water rescues results. Firefighter later receives Firefighter of the Year award due to political pressure, but policy remains. (True story).

Example: Multiple shooting with unknown whereabouts of shooter. Viable victim pleads for help and dies while law enforcement attempts to ensure scene is safe to enter.

* * *

Should Firefighter/EMTs be allowed to practice medicine outside their license? Should a cowboy firefighter or cop overrule policy and enter a potentially dangerous situation or break the law to effect a rescue? Who makes the call when it is okay to do so? If a rescuer makes the wrong decision in such a situation that results in injury would you have them lose their medical license and career? Do you tend to support government oversight and regulation or cowboy heroes? Can this be addressed with even more policies, or less?

Even when acting in good faith with knowlege and training (better than nothing in the golden hour), the lawyers F everyone for deep pocket money (the government) but I still respect firemen more than any other public servant, I never met anyone who felt different.

Dave Wilson, nice to meet you willie

slorider…..what about a paramedic that has the skills necessary to do those ALS procedures but the city they work for says they can’t function as a paramedic? One of the problems is the cities are not allowing these guys (and girls) to do their jobs.

What are you specifically asking? Seriously, that is such an ambiguous and loaded question! What are the state and local policies pertaining to minimum staffing and equipment that apply to these situations which you did not elaborate on? What are the specific details of your grievance?

Regardless, there are cost issues in every situation. We can’t pay everyone with a PM cert that works overtime in a BLS position extra money. But you have not provided enough detail to have an informed discussion. Show me the policies and describe the instances. Don’t just blame “the cities”. They have a job to do as well.