SAN FRANCISCO – A 50-year-old man waded into the San Francisco Bay, stood up to his neck and waited. A Coast Guard boat couldn't get into the shallow water, and fire crews said they couldn't rescue him because of a policy that strictly forbade such attempts.
Finally, a witness went in after him, pulling his lifeless body from the bay.
"We expected to see at some point that there would be a concern for him," another witness, Gary Barlow, told KGO-TV.
Alameda officials said Tuesday they'll change the island city's water rescue policy after the apparently suicidal man died in the 54-degree water.
Interim Fire Chief Mike D'Orazi called Monday's incident troubling and said he directed staff to write a new policy that would allow commanders at the scene to attempt a water rescue in Alameda, a city of about 75,000 people across the bay from San Francisco.
The previous policy was implemented after budget cuts forced the department to discontinue water rescue training and stop maintaining wetsuits and other rescue gear, D'Orazi said.
"The incident yesterday was deeply regrettable," he said. "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."
Fire crews and police watched as the man, identified by authorities only as an Alameda resident in his early 50s, stood up to his neck off Crown Memorial State Beach, witnesses told the television station. Perry Smith, another witness, said the man was visible from the shore and was looking at people.
A police official said the decision was difficult, but officers did not have the gear for the cold water and couldn't risk being pulled under.
"Certainly this was tragic, but police officers are tasked with ensuring public safety, including the safety of personnel who are sent to try to resolve these kinds of situations," Alameda police Lt. Sean Lynch said.
D'Orazi also said crews may have decided it was too risky to attempt the rescue, even if they had not been shackled by the restrictions on water rescues.
In addition to the new policy, Alameda fire personnel will receive training in water rescues, and rescue equipment will be inspected to make sure it is not damaged, D'Orazi said.
The Coast Guard was called to the scene, but the water was too shallow for a boat, according to Lynch. A Coast Guard helicopter was apparently not immediately available.
There are no lifeguards at the beach, said Isa Polt-Jones, a spokeswoman with the East Bay Regional Park District. Signs at the park advise swimmers to enter the water at their own risk.