Rescue crews under fire for failure to act

An apparently suicidal man waded into San Francisco Bay on Monday, stood up to his neck, and waited. As the man drowned, police, fire crews, and others watched idly from the shore.

Why? Officials blamed a departmental policy, stemming from budget cuts, that prevented them from jumping in to save him.

Fifty-year-old Raymond Zack spent nearly an hour in the water before drowning. A crowd of about 75 people, in addition to first responders, watched from the beach in Alameda across the bay from San Francisco as Zack inched farther and farther away, sometimes glancing back, a witness told the San Jose Mercury News. "The next thing he was floating face down."

A volunteer eventually pulled Zack's lifeless body from the Bay.

Mike D'Orazi of the Alameda Fire Department said that, due to 2009 budget cuts, his crews lacked the training and gear to enter the water. And a Coast Guard boat couldn't access the area because the water was too shallow.

"The incident yesterday was deeply regrettable," D'Orazi said Tuesday. "But I can also see it from our firefighters' perspective. They're standing there wanting to do something, but they are handcuffed by policy at that point."

Alameda Police Lt. Sean Lynch also suggested his men did the right thing. "He was engaged in a deliberate act of taking his own life," Lynch told the Mercury News. "We did not know whether he was violent, whether drugs were involved. It's not a situation of a typical rescue."

But at a City Council hearing Tuesday night, some locals expressed outrage that Zack was left to die. "This just strikes me as not just a problem with funding, but a problem with the culture of what's going on in our city, that no one would take the time and help this drowning man," said one resident, Adam Gillitt.

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