Video: Firefighters stop woman's suicide attempt

Firefighters below the overpass were speaking with the woman when she swung one of her legs back over and straddled the edge

San Francisco Chronicle

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. — A group of Alameda County firefighters heading back to their station Tuesday after dealing with an oil spill spotted another emergency on an Emeryville street: a visibly distraught woman sitting on the edge of an overpass, her feet dangling toward the busy traffic below.

Engine 34 firefighters came upon the woman about 10:30 a.m., got out of the truck and diverted vehicles on Powell Street to prevent passing motorists from getting hurt if she were to jump. Another crew from Engine 35 happened to be in the area and drove over to lend a hand.

As some of the firefighters tried to calm down the woman, whose car was parked nearby, Capt. Malcolm Cooper and firefighter John Hall climbed up the embankment leading to the overpass.


“My firefighter and I decided we’d work our way up to the top just in case there was an opportunity to get her off in a safe manner,” Cooper told The Chronicle.

In a video that captured the incident, firefighters below the overpass were speaking with the woman when she swung one of her legs back over and straddled the edge so that her back was to Cooper and Hall, who had stealthily made their way onto the overpass.

That change in her position, the two said, was their opportune moment. They looked at each other and quickly closed the distance, making their way around the woman’s car to reach her.

Hall put the woman in a bear hug and, with Cooper’s help, swung her off the edge and out of harm’s way.

“I’d say 50-50 of her body was on the safe side versus dangerous side, and I didn’t think we’d get anything better than that,” Cooper said, adding that “the last thing we wanted to do was startle her or scare her.”

Hall held the woman and talked to her until an ambulance arrived, trying to understand what she was going through, said Capt. Sean Burrows, who was one of the firefighters below.

“If we would’ve been a few minutes later or a few minutes earlier, it may have turned out differently,” Burrows said. “I hope she’s OK and she gets whatever help she needs and not have those thoughts anymore.”

The entire rescue, from the first engine pulling over to getting her off the edge, happened under five minutes — before police or California Highway Patrol officers got to the scene.

Cooper, Hall and Burrows said they had never rescued a distraught person from a bridge or overpass before.

“It was one giant chain with a bunch of links and we were all linked together,” Hall said. “It was a very fast and well executed game plan.”

The rescue was one of two in the Bay Area on Tuesday. Later in the day, as CHP officers were leaving their office parking lot at Eighth and Bryant streets in San Francisco, they spotted a man dangling over Interstate 80, hanging onto a rail by his hands.

Spanish-speaking officers were called to talk to the man, who didn’t speak English well. An officer eventually pulled him back over the edge, and police transported him to a nearby hospital for an evaluation.

“Two in one day, it’s crazy,” said Officer Vu Williams, a CHP spokesman. “I don’t know if there are more cell phones or if this is just happening more.”

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