East Bay News

Alameda Fire gets second rescue boat

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Alameda Fire Department has secured a second shallow-water rescue boat, the latest move made by the department to shore up its rescue capabilities in the wake of the drowning death of a suicidal man in May.

Raymond Zack, 53, died in the water off of Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach on May 30 while Alameda police officers and firefighters stood by.

An independent investigation into the death by former state Fire Marshal Ruben Grijalva published last month found that the city's elimination of its fire department rescue boat in 2008 and its rescue swimmer program in 2009 resulted in total reliance on mutual aid from outside agencies.

Because Alameda is an island city, depending on the outside agencies to respond produced "a reduced likelihood of a successful outcome," Grijalva said.

In June, the department reestablished its water rescue program with the purchase of one shallow-water rescue boat, and announced today that it has secured a second boat, which will be based at Fire Station 2 at 635 Pacific Ave. The other boat is at Fire Station 1 at 2401 Encinal Ave.

Department officials say the second boat will shorten response times and limit wear and tear on the boats.

"Getting this second boat really makes it better for our staff and any potential water victim," interim Fire Chief Michael D'Orazi said in a statement. "We now have much better coverage of the waters surrounding Alameda."

The department also now has 21 firefighters trained as rescue swimmers, and 38 firefighters trained as boat operators.

City Manager John Russo said following the release of Grijalva's report that he agrees with all of its recommendations, which included already-enacted reforms such as reestablishing its own water rescue operation and having better training and policies for water emergencies.

The report will be presented to the Alameda City Council, which will act on the recommendations at its meeting Tuesday, Russo said. There will also be a follow-up report in February to make sure the recommended changes are being implemented.

However, a group of Alameda residents are criticizing the report, saying it is inadequate and inaccurate.

Adam Gillitt, one of the residents, said the report "is a waste of our taxpayers' money, and really doesn't address the scope of issues and problems with the Alameda Fire Department."

Gillitt said the group will be holding a news conference to go into more detail about their problems with the report at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday outside Alameda City Hall at 2263 Santa Clara Ave.

The City Council meeting will then follow inside City Hall at 7 p.m.

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