Drowning Man Ignored by First Responders?

The other day on Twitter, I gave you two homework assignments.  If you’ve already read the following links, you get to move to the head of the class, brown-noser.  If not, don’t worry, there is still time!  First, read the media’s take here.  And here’s a bonus read I didn’t assign you.  Then, read Happy Medic’s take here.  Go ahead, I’m a patient guy.  I’ll go grab a beverage whilst I wait….

Back?  Excellent.

The media, in this case, was represented by Angela Hill with the Oakland Tribune.  Let me start by addressing Ms Hill.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  How is it that you can report on something like this and leave out some critical facts.  What facts you ask?  How about that the man was reportedly suicidal?  Think that may have played a part in this incident?  You bet it did.  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.  I wonder if Ms Hill has ever tried to interact with an individual that is having seriously suicidal thoughts.  You know what Ms Hill didn’t include in her article?  Beside the obvious, I mean.  Any comments from “witnesses” about what the man in the water had said, if anything.    Did she interview police or dispatch about how first responders came to be notified of the man’s behavior?  Sounds like an unfortunately typical hatchet job by mainstream media.

At least Zachary Roth with Yahoo News got closer to the truth.  The first line of his article included the information regarding the man being apparently suicidal.  Mr. Roth, you are one up on your colleague.  But, you’re not off the hook, sir.  “As the man drowned, police, fire crews, and others watched idly from the shore.”  (Emphasis added).  Idly?  Really?  Like they were just shootin’ the shit and having a cup o’ joe?

Let me explain something to you citizen-types.  You want us to appear idle.  Seriously.  Would you prefer random, chaotic flurries of activity.  Would you prefer if we just looked busy?  I’ll just bet you would.  Ah yes, I forgot.  Perception is reality.  Allow me to shatter the illusion of your perception.  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.  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.  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.  You know what I learned about saving lives in the water when I was a lifeguard?  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.  Yup.  You read that right.  If the rescuer is injured or killed, they are no good to the one needing the rescuing.

You know who doesn’t know that?  Armchair internet warriors and ignorant citizens that are not properly trained and educated in water rescue.

“Well, I would have jumped in and helped!”  Really, incensed soccer mom?  You know what would have been more than likely to occur?  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.  Know whose fault that would have been?  Of course you do.  The first responders.  (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.  We did not know whether he was violent, whether drugs were involved.  It’s not a situation of a typical rescue.”  Lt. Lynch couldn’t have been more correct.

And finally, the fine citizens of Alameda.  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.”  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.  And I mean truly entails.  We are not super heroes.  We have to train.  We have to plan.  We have to execute that plan in the safest manner possible.  You know who hamstrung Alameda FD?  The city of Alameda when the budget got slashed.  You know who the city of Alameda answers to?  The citizens.  You know how citizens get their voices heard?  Voting.  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?  Hostage negotiation.  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!  Take this megaphone and negotiate!”?  I wouldn’t say a word.  Because I’d get the mayor’s daughter killed.  Because I know two things about hostage negotiation.  1) Jack and 2) Shit.

The men and women of the Alameda FD and PD made the right call that day.  Make no mistake.  It was a tragic incident and I wish they had the appropriate gear and training to mount an effective and safe rescue.  Sadly, they did not.  If you have issue with that, take it up with your city council.  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.  There is a tendency to extrapolate this situation to any number of other possibilities.  What if it were a child?  What if it were a boat full of nuns?  Listen, the key factor in this, from my perspective, is the caveat regarding his desire to do himself harm.  That’s a game changer, folks.  If it were a kid, policy be damned.  I’m convinced the men and women of Alameda FD and PD would have reacted differently.  Every situation is different.  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.  One of them is bound to be correct, right?  Quality work, media.  Well done.  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.  This one fired me up.  Back to our usual hilarity soon!


Photo credit: Flickr and Franco Folini

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

11 thoughts on “Drowning Man Ignored by First Responders?

  1. Every spring and summer the news is full of articles about a parent and child drowning after the child slipped into the river, lake, ocean, etc. People who are not trained in water rescue have no business attempting it. And in COLD water – forget about it. You have about 4 minutes of coordinated movement before your muscles are too cold to respond.

    They made the right choice.

  2. Typical media and typical citizens. They know nothing about LEO, EMS or Fire, yet they present themselves as experts when this sort of thing happens.

  3. The only mistake was for the “overpaid” first responders to cite the budget issue out loud. The truth is political poison. If the FD had simply blamed a lack of training and equipment, the press would have jumped all over the budget for them. We all know how those serious journalists love to expose the root cause of a problem. All they had to do was drop a trail of crumbs leading to the budget, and the press would have gobbled it up. The first responder would then be portrayed as victims, and published comments would read more like – Firefighter: It made me sick that we were so close, but we couldn’t do more,” and Cop: “If we had water-rescue equipment, we could have saved that man.”
    D’Orazi played on the wrong emotions.

    • An interesting point and one I hadn’t considered. I don’t have a political bone in my body when it comes to stuff like this.

      • I’m not too politically savvy, but I always pay attention to how the press spins EVERYTHING.
        “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. ” When I read that statement, I just cringed. The poor man spoke the absolute truth, and was crucified for it.

  4. I read about this in another ‘blog.’ What really irks me is that people think that the job of emergency workers is to do everything to save another person, even if it puts the emergency worker’s life at risk.

    Try again! Emergency workers ARE heroes! They do go above and beyond what Josephine Blow does in the average day. But there are risks and there are *unnecessary* risks. The smart cop/firefighter/ems worker/etc knows the difference. By taking an unnecessary risk, two (or more) people die needlessly. The death of the original person is no less tragic, but it doesn’t have to be made worse by further, needless deaths.

  5. The first thing we are taught, on the very first day of EMT school is to look out for CREW and then PATIENT safety. IN THAT ORDER. You look after yourself, and you look after your crew mate. Everyone else can go hang until you are sure that the two of you are safe, and will stay safe as the situation evolves. Only then do you think about any patients, bystanders or anyone else.
    This is a prime example of TV and the media skewing the public’s perception of what is possible, and then expecting us to live up to those perceptions. Dream on! The last time I looked I wasn’t Superman, so if you’ll excuse me folks, I’ll do my job as best as I can to the limits of my all-too-frail human ability, whilst looking after me and my crewmate, and that’ll be the best you get.

  6. MC- I was screaming at my radio the other day as they were proclaiming this event to be an example of the “wussification” of our law enforcement personell and emergency responders. I appreciate your perspective on the incident and will carry some of your quotes as ammo in my back pocket. Ready to fire off the next time this topic broaches conversation.

  7. My favorite thing to tell someone about being selfish is that you can’t help anyone if you aren’t selfish first. And here’s my example:

    I have low iron, because I don’t eat enough iron rich foods to keep my iron level up. Because of that, I can’t give blood. Every time I try, I get turned down. (I keep trying, because I really want to help.) Because I am not selfish enough to spend more time and money making sure there is enough iron in my diet, I am useless to anyone who needs a blood transfusion.

    I know this is a lot smaller than not rescuing someone at the risk of losing my life, but it’s a small enough example that people can relate to it. A dead EMT/cop/firefighter can’t help anyone.

    And thank you for pointing out the voter issues! I work with schools, and I hear people all the time complaining about the food in schools. How many of the whiners out there get to the polls, lobby for change, and attend town meetings? And how many of them whine even more when taxes are raised to get more funding for the schools their kids attend?

  8. The vic got what he wanted: death. No other deaths associated with his actions. I’d call this a win/win and all the spectators can STFU&D.

  9. I used to work on towboats on the Mississippi. In boat school they taught us water safety and rescue procedures. One early lesson had us in the pool in our work vests (flotation vests). The instructor told us to raise our hand if we’d jump in to help someone who had gone overboard. Every other person in the class raised his hand. “You’re dead.”

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