LOS ANGELES — A US city fire chief ordered an immediate policy change Wednesday after emergency workers stood by for an hour as a reportedly suicidal man drowned himself off a San Francisco beach.
Michael D’Orazi, interim fire chief in the city of Alameda, said 57-year-old Raymond Zack’s death on Monday was “very regrettable,” but said rules had prevented his officers from attempting to rescue the man.
Police were in charge of the situation as the man, who had walked out until he was neck-deep, reportedly trod water fully-clothed for up to an hour before drowning. The incident was watched by dozens of people from the beach.
Police “felt that going into the water initially might not be the best idea because they were unsure if this individual was armed, the stability of the individual,” D’Orazi told CNN.
In addition for his firefighters “there was a policy in place that pretty much precluded our people from entering the water,” he added, saying the rules will now be changed.
“We will be putting into effect a new policy which allows our commander discretion after these circumstances,” he said.
The police said budget cuts meant no-one was properly trained for shore-to-water rescue.
“It’s muddy out there. We don’t want them sinking. We don’t want them in distress,” interim police chief Michael Noonan told the local KTVU television channel.
Coast Guard spokesman said a rescue boat was dispatched but could not reach the man, while a helicopter was delayed by another emergency call.
“We launched a small boat from San Francisco and our helicopter, but the boat was unable to get to the man at that location because it was too shallow for the boat to get through,” spokesman Erik Swanson told the Oakland Tribune.
The helicopter took 65 minutes to get to the scene, said the newspaper. “Our helicopter arrived and spotted the man in the water,” but it was too late, said Swanson.
The man’s body was recovered by a woman in her 20s, who swam out some 50 yards off shore. When she reached the beach with him he was unresponsive, and he was declared dead in hospital a short time later, according to the Tribune.