IT IS VERY unfortunate and disgusting that a depressed man lost his life in the water off Crown Beach on Memorial Day because of the lack of appropriate response by the Alameda Fire Department.
I am a retired lieutenant from the Oakland Fire Department. As a lieutenant or captain we serve at an emergency scene as incident commanders until relieved by a battalion chief. We have the responsibility to handle all situations we encounter. We can order all necessary resources.
Situations fall into four classifications according to risk to personnel and probable outcome of the situation: Low risk, low reward; low risk, high reward; high risk, low reward; and high risk, high reward.
From the video of this sad scenario that I saw, this man was about 100-150 yards offshore in about 4-5.5 feet of water. This was not a water rescue; this was a case of wading out to the man, communicating with him and walking him back to the beach. This was not a man treading water in the Oakland-Alameda estuary, where danger to personnel is great. At Crown Beach you can wade out for 200 yards and still be knee-deep in water.
A police officer or a firefighter could have done this; maybe both if they were frightened. For any incident commander this situation falls into the category of low risk, high reward. End of story. This man died because of the negligence and incompetence of the Alameda Fire Department.
It is very upsetting that they are hiding behind lack of training and budget cuts. If they were so concerned about the safety of their firefighters, they could have walked across the street to Big Five Sporting Goods and purchased a $20 flotation device. What was needed in this situation was common sense, which apparently none of the professionals possessed.
What would have happened if a jet from Oakland Airport ditched in a similar area and some passengers had injuries, but could not walk to the shore? Would the Fire Department leave them there?
Some will support the firefighters, claiming that they lacked training and risked violating policy. However, a firefighter takes an oath to protect life and property. It trumps policies. There are never policies for all situations. You need to have common sense.
What would happen if a child were in a pool struggling? Would Alameda firefighters not enter the pool for a rescue because they are not trained in water rescue?
One wonders whether police or firefighters tried to establish contact with the man, or whether mental health professionals were called? Or, if the situation seemed so dangerous to them, did they promptly contact the city of Oakland's Swift Water Rescue team? Action should have been taken.
The incident commander should be demoted. You certainly would not want to have this person making life-and-death decisions after this fatal mistake. The city of Alameda will be sued for millions of dollars, rightfully so.
I feel terrible for all those at the beach who experienced this sad loss of human life, for the 20-year-old woman who had to pull him out of the water when he had deceased, because Alameda Fire Department would still not go in, and for this depressed man who lost his life for no explainable reason. The worst part is the image of him turning around, looking back, as if to say, "Don't you care."
He just wanted someone to care.
Daniel Lisker retired in 2002 after 16 years with the Oakland Fire Department.