The other day on Twitter, I gave you two homework assignments. Â If you’ve already read the following links, you get to move to the head of the class, brown-noser. Â If not, don’t worry, there is still time! Â First, read the media’s take here. Â And here’s a bonus read I didn’t assign you. Â Then, read Happy Medic’s take here. Â Go ahead, I’m a patient guy. Â I’ll go grab a beverage whilst I wait….
Back? Â Excellent.
The media, in this case, was represented by Angela Hill with the Oakland Tribune. Â Let me start by addressing Ms Hill. Â You should be ashamed of yourself. Â How is it that you can report on something like this and leave out some critical facts. Â What facts you ask? Â How about that the man was reportedly suicidal? Â Think that may have played a part in this incident? Â You bet it did. Â Your column painted an unfair picture of a bunch of uncaring, apathetic louts that were either too scared or simply didn’t give enough of a shit to help this man.
I wonder if Ms Hill has ever fought a man in chest deep water. Â I wonder if Ms Hill has ever tried to interact with an individual that is having seriously suicidal thoughts. Â You know what Ms Hill didn’t include in her article? Â Beside the obvious, I mean. Â Any comments from “witnesses” about what the man in the water had said, if anything. Â Â Did she interview police or dispatch about how first responders came to be notified of the man’s behavior? Â Sounds like an unfortunately typical hatchet job by mainstream media.
At least Zachary Roth with Yahoo News got closer to the truth. Â The first line of his article included the information regarding the man being apparently suicidal. Â Mr. Roth, you are one up on your colleague. Â But, you’re not off the hook, sir. Â “As the man drowned, police, fire crews, and others watched idly from the shore.” Â (Emphasis added). Â Idly? Â Really? Â Like they were just shootin’ the shit and having a cup o’ joe?
Let me explain something to you citizen-types. Â You want us to appear idle. Â Seriously. Â Would you prefer random, chaotic flurries of activity. Â Would you prefer if we just looked busy? Â I’ll just bet you would. Â Ah yes, I forgot. Â Perception is reality. Â Allow me to shatter the illusion of your perception. Â What you perceive as idle is in reality a lot of decision-making, phone calls, and brain storming about how to deal with a given situation. Â Hollywood and cop serials on TV (although I love those) have forever ruined the reality of what police work is actually like.
There are tactics to be considered. Â Despite the brainwashing by TV and the media may have told you, we do not throw caution to the wind and needlessly risk our lives. Â You know what I learned about saving lives in the water when I was a lifeguard? Â If you’re trying to save someone and they start freaking out and trying to grab on to you potentially drowning the both of you, you punch them in the face and swim away. Â Yup. Â You read that right. Â If the rescuer is injured or killed, they are no good to the one needing the rescuing.
You know who doesn’t know that? Â Armchair internet warriors and ignorant citizens that are not properly trained and educated in water rescue.
“Well, I would have jumped in and helped!” Â Really, incensed soccer mom? Â You know what would have been more than likely to occur? Â You would have been swamped by the suicidal guy or injured by him, or pulled out in the tide and then two of you would have drowned. Â Know whose fault that would have been? Â Of course you do. Â The first responders. Â (Please tell me the sarcasm from that last sentence oozed out from your keyboard and/or smart phone).
Mr. Roth quoted Alameda Police Lt. Sean Lynch as saying the following about the suicidal man: “He was engaged in a deliberate act of taking his own life. Â We did not know whether he was violent, whether drugs were involved. Â It’s not a situation of a typical rescue.” Â Lt. Lynch couldn’t have been more correct.
And finally, the fine citizens of Alameda. Â Mr. Roth quoted a man at a city council hearing as saying, “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.” Â Another witness at the scene said, “We expected to see at some point that there would be a concern for him.”
These two are completely ignorant of what the job of a first responder entails. Â And I mean truly entails. Â We are not super heroes. Â We have to train. Â We have to plan. Â We have to execute that plan in the safest manner possible. Â You know who hamstrung Alameda FD? Â The city of Alameda when the budget got slashed. Â You know who the city of Alameda answers to? Â The citizens. Â You know how citizens get their voices heard? Â Voting. Â I wonder how many citizens of Alameda voted in 2009 or bothered to worry about the level of training their first responders were receiving.
You know what I’m not trained to do? Â Hostage negotiation. Â So you know what I’d do after the big bank robbery and action sequence with the pursuit and the shootout followed by the bad guy kidnapping the mayor’s daughter and the surly police chief tells me, “Dammit, MC, SWAT is an hour out and we’ve got to save the mayor’s daughter! Â Take this megaphone and negotiate!”? Â I wouldn’t say a word. Â Because I’d get the mayor’s daughter killed. Â Because I know two things about hostage negotiation. Â 1) Jack and 2) Shit.
The men and women of the Alameda FD and PD made the right call that day. Â Make no mistake. Â It was a tragic incident and I wish they had the appropriate gear and training to mount an effective and safe rescue. Â Sadly, they did not. Â If you have issue with that, take it up with your city council. Â Instead of bitching about how overpaid we are, why don’t you make sure we’re receiving the amount of training to save your no-paying-20%-of-your-income-into-your-own-retirement ass.
Finally, let me further blow your mind. Â There is a tendency to extrapolate this situation to any number of other possibilities. Â What if it were a child? Â What if it were a boat full of nuns? Â Listen, the key factor in this, from my perspective, is the caveat regarding his desire to do himself harm. Â That’s a game changer, folks. Â If it were a kid, policy be damned. Â I’m convinced the men and women of Alameda FD and PD would have reacted differently. Â Every situation is different. Â Each must be evaluated on its own merits.
And by the way, ABC news and Mr. Roth reported the man as 50-years-old and Ms Hill reported him as 57-years-old. Â One of them is bound to be correct, right? Â Quality work, media. Â Well done. Â Shame you’re not held to a “higher standard” like those of us that write reports for a living.
I know I lost sight of brevity in this post and I got a little rant-y. Â This one fired me up. Â Back to our usual hilarity soon!
Photo credit: Flickr and Franco Folini