By Erica Madison
“He was kind, gentle and considerate, but never violent. I don’t understand why that was an issue,” Raymond Zack’s foster mother Dolores Berry told Alameda City Council on October 11, 2011.
Mrs. Berry and others who knew Zack attended a special City Council meeting investigating how and why Raymond Zach died five months ago on Memorial Day at Robert Crown Beach. Berry and friends gave Alameda City council a glimpse as to who the man was.
“He was a private person…he didn’t talk much and he was very religious”, said Berry. “He would never take his life, the thought of suicide was against everything he believed in.
Others said he was a “gentle giant” who frequently took his mother to church and wore a rosary around his neck.
This testimony is in stark contrast to the report investigator Rueben Grijalva gave to Alameda City Council regarding his death.
At the meeting Grijalva, repeatedly called Raymond a dangerous individual and brought in a hostage negotiator Dr. Anthony Hare, to talk about the dangers of dealing with suicidal individuals and how they are a “danger” to emergency respondents.
However, Mrs. Berry told City Council, Zack was in the water with his hands in the air praying.
To further emphasize Grijavla’s disconnectedness to the man who died, the report refers to Zack as “the subject” and “this huge man”.
Councilmember Doug DeHaan was concerned with the fact that Grijalva never interviewed Mrs. Berry or the people who knew Zack. When asked, Grijalva responded this was not his “task.”
Rueben Grijalva was hired by City Manager John Russo to investigate the failures of fire and police officers, who didn’t try to save Raymond Zack from drowning. For a $19,500 paycheck, Grijalva produced a twenty-seven page report in which he interviewed police and fire personnel who were on the scene, examined city and county records and reviewed Los Angeles, Oakland, and Riverside policies regarding suicide prevention and water rescue.
“This was a rare incident in which fire and police were inexperienced,” said Grijalva.
The report also included fourteen recommendations. All fourteen recommendations essentially asked for one thing – more funding for fire and police personnel.
Grijalva concluded that Raymond Zack lost his life because fire and police personnel were not trained to work together and were also not trained to offer help to suicidal individuals.
Grijalva told Alameda City Council the very first thing that should have happened was for someone to initiate a conversation with Raymond Zack. This did not happen; instead the incident commander on the scene relied on information from a surfer, to determine Zack was ok.
“Someone needed to make contact with Zack to offer help,” said Grijalva. “It should have been the primary concern of the chief officers and emergency responders to get someone out there as soon as possible, and a water rescue should have been performed once the person was incapacitated.”
Another issue that contributed to Zack’s death was fire and police communication during the emergency.
Grijalva said firefighters withheld information from the incident commander, such as the mysterious disappearance of surface rescue capability. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they didn’t tell the Alameda police that they hadn’t been certified for water rescue in two years.
“The fire department could have played a larger role. They had information about policies they had in place that they didn’t give to the incident commander,” said Grijalva.
They also didn’t share information such as which neighboring cities were available to help them rescue Zack. Instead, the incident commander was told that the firefighters were there only to provide EMS support if Zack decided to come ashore.
To remedy the situation, Grijalva recommends suicide prevention training for firefighters and police officers, as well as hands-on cross training between firefighters and police officers and crisis communication training for supervisors and commanders.
Both Chief of Police Mike Noonan and Interim Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi spoke with Alameda City Council about the changes they have already made based on Grijalva’s recommendations.
“I apologize to the community, you expect better and you deserve better and from the police department you will get better,” said Alameda Chief of Police Mike Noonan.
Noonan said the police department was hard at work training their officers and working on building a better relationship with the fire department by having quarterly commander and supervisor meetings. There is a joint exercise this week in cross training of fire and police officers.
D’Orazi also offered an apology and said training is the Fire Department’s number one priority.
“We are moving forward to take the steps we need to take to provide the best service to the city of Alameda,” he said.
So far, twenty-one firefighters have been trained in water rescue and all new hires will be trained in water rescue. Thirty-eight firefighters have been trained as boat operators and two new boats have been purchased; one has already been used four times. The second one will be ready for service this week.
The meeting ended with Mayor Marie Gilmore requesting a 90 day review, in which every 90 days fire and police personnel will have to report on the progress their making in implementing Grijalva’s recommendations.