There Were Budget Cuts.

USCG Comanche in San Francisco Bay.

A 50, 53, 54 or 57-year old man, depending on where you get your information, walked out into the San Francisco Bay from Crown Memorial State Beach late Monday afternoon.  His alleged intention was to commit suicide.  That’s what he told his step-mother who called 911.  He reportedly paced back and forth for a time, fully clothed, on the beach, before walking out into the surf, standing in chest-deep water with his hands in the air.  He bobbed in the water for over an hour under the watch of Alameda rescue personnel and some 75 witnesses.  He was approximately 150 yards from shore.  No one went in to save him, although one individual tried to get his sailboard close enough to help. 

The water in the bay is estimated to be 54 degrees at this time of year, and a human will suffer hypothermia in a very short time.  The United States Search and Rescue Task Force has a risk list for how long it will take for hypothermia to set in, and how long you can expect to survive in cold water.  If the water temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees, time until exhaustion or unconsciousness is 1 to 2 hours.  Expected time of survival in the water is 1 to 6 hours.  If the temperature drops to between 40 and 50 degrees, the time frames are cut in half.  Expected time of survival in the water is 1 to 3 hours, and unconsciousness would occur in 30-60 minutes.

According to a statement released by the Alameda Police Monday evening, “(the) Alameda Fire Department does not currently have, and is not certified, in land-based water rescues. The city of Alameda primarily relies on the United States Coast Guard for these types of events.”  Kind of a strange policy for a city on the bay, but then there were budget cuts.  The headlines:  “Rescuers Stay Dry as Man Drowns”; “‘Handcuffed by Policy,’ Fire Crews Watch Man Die.”; “Alameda Police, Firefighters, Watch As Man Drowns, Blame Budget Cuts.” 

The United States Coast Guard said the water was too shallow for their boat, and the helicopter took 65 minutes to get there because it had to refuel after coming off another mission.  According to others the largest boat the Coast Guard has in the area, a 47-footer, has a draft of 4 and 1/2 feet.  I’m going to venture to say that the Coast Guard didn’t do even close to enough in this incident.  The Coast Guard doesn’t have life rafts on board? 

“We’re not trained to go into the water, obviously the type of gear that we have on, we don’t have the type of equipment that you would use to go into the water,” Alameda Police Lt. Joe McNiff said.”  They wouldn’t even go in after the body, a 20-year old woman, swam out and brought the man’s body to shore.  I don’t think she was wearing a wetsuit either.

The Alameda City Council has reversed their policy on water-rescues following the incident, of course.  It almost looks like the rescue personnel did NOTHING as a political statement.  WTF.  Can you imagine being a rescue worker and not being able to help because of a city policy?  They responded within minutes of the 911 call, and then were under orders to do nothing.

But what is really even more disturbing about this incident, in my humble opinion, is that none of the witnesses tried to help.  Some of them were actually interviewed saying they expected someone to help at some point (obviously not them).  I understand not everyone is a hero, but we now have “Good Samaritan Laws” and civil liability, and, in this case, knowing full well if you got into trouble while trying to rescue the man, the authorities weren’t going to do anything to help you.  That would have made most of us possible heroes think twice.  But still, how is it possible that on a Memorial Day weekend at the beach, no one was around with a wetsuit, a small watercraft, that knew someone with a boat, or a surfboard.  The way the story is written no one did anything but watch the man drown.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “There Were Budget Cuts.

  1. Me

    Incredibly disturbing… in fact, I’m just pissed off right now after reading that. Screw policy and orders, they should have gone out there.
    K… your post tomorrow needs to be happier!!!

    • See, I wasn’t going to write about it either, but the more I read the comments, the madder I was getting about the whole thing. I’ll be happier tomorrow. LOL

  2. I don’t know what to make of this. I am surprised that no one “defied” policy and just went and got him. But there are other issues here too, they may sound callus but aren’t meant to be. If a person wants to commit suicide, this is certainly an attention-seeking (and expensive) way. This was very dramatic and he had an audience. When hikers do stupid things and get stranded, rescue costs a fortune, and who pays for it? Not the hiker.

    Here in AZ the Border Patrol risk their lives every day to rescue people in the desert. I can’t imagine any one of them standing by and watching someone die, policy or not. So yeah, budget cuts or not, a professional should have swam out there and got him. But I can’t help being irritated at the suicide man’s method.

    Politicians today truly do not understand what needs to be cut and what doesn’t. I’m kind of shocked that California, the state that now allows alcohol and cigarettes to be purchased with food stamps, would enact such a bad city policy.

    Please keep writing about these kinds of subjects, as they encourage thought.

    • It was the comments from readers on MSNBC.com that caused me to write about the incident. A good majority of them said things like, the man wanted to commit suicide, why not leave him alone and let him do it. It was shocking. There were also a lot of comments from rescue personel that said the same as you, they would have gone in and attempted to save him, policy be damned. I think it’s a pretty common suicide method on the coast, but even now we don’t really know that is what he was doing. We’re just assuming, or “alleging”. There are other possibilities here and even so, suicide is a call for help. Alameda’s answer to budget cuts was to rely on the Coast Guard and that sure didn’t work out.

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