20 firefighters trained for water rescue in Alameda

The Alameda Fire Department came under widespread public criticism following the drowning death of a man as responders watched from the beach

By Peter Hegarty
The Contra Costa Times

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Twenty Alameda firefighters are now trained as rescue swimmers and an additional 16 are expected to undergo the training, according to interim fire Chief Mike D'Orazi.

The fire department also now owns a 14-foot rescue boat, which is expected to be in service by Sept. 1. Firefighters will be trained on how to operate the boat later this month.

The training is expected to last through August.

But D'Orazi, who briefed the City Council on Tuesday on the efforts to revamp the fire department's water rescue program, also called it a "work in progress."

Numerous firefighters have volunteered for the training, he said.

"We have had a great amount of interest, basically, to make this program a success," he said.

When the rescue boat is operational, it should be able to be dispatched to any emergency on the Island within 15 minutes, according to the fire department.

The inflatable boat, which is on a trailer, cost about $13,000.

The Alameda Fire Department came under widespread public criticism following the Memorial Day death of Raymond Zack, who died off Robert Crown Memorial State Beach as firefighters and police officers watched from the beach.

Police said officers did not enter the water because the 52-year-old Zack was suicidal and possibly dangerous, while firefighters said they did not enter the water because they were not trained in water rescue due to budget cuts.

The effort to beef up the department's water rescue program follows Mayor Marie Gilmore announcing last month that former state Fire Marshal Ruben Grijalva will review the circumstances surrounding Zack's death.

Grijalva is expected to prepare a chronology of what took place on Memorial Day, as well as the actions by the various public safety agencies involved. He is also expected to review the city's current water rescue policies and make recommendations on possible changes.

Grijalva's report will be presented to the City Council after it is completed by late September.

After Zack's death, D'Orazi made an immediate policy change that would allow a senior firefighter at an emergency scene discretion on whether to carry out a water rescue.

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