Mayor Marie Gilmore has said an investigation will take place into the death of Raymond Zack, who died Memorial Day as police and firefighters watched while he stood in the bay waters off Shoreline Drive.
The 52-year-old Zack, who suffered from depression, waded into the water about 11:30 a.m. and a passer-by pulled his body packed into shore about an hour later. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Alameda Hospital.
His family believe he succumbed to hypothermia.
"We are absolutely going to do an investigation," Gilmore said. "And we are planning to do it in as transparent a way as possible."
Gilmore read a statement at the start of Tuesday night's council meeting -- when proposed police and fire department cuts happened to be on the agenda -- calling Zack's death "tragic."
"Our goal is to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again," she said.
Public speakers were clearly frustrated about the fact that police and firefighters remained on the beach, saying department policy and other circumstances prevented them from entering the water to help Zack.
"This man did not have to die," Adam Gillitt said. "And the fact that he did deserves more than an apology."
Lynn Krekemeyer, who is active with the Alameda Aquatic Masters, described Zack's death as "unconscionable" and "a sad commentary on budget decisions."
She also noted that as an island the city is surrounded by water and that water sports are especially popular.
Rosemary McNally told the council that the water temperature -- which investigators described as about 55 degrees when Zack died -- should not be used as an excuse by emergency responders for not wading out into the bay.
Police and firefighters said they arrived within minutes of receiving the 911 call that Zack was attempting to commit suicide at the beach. But firefighters did not enter the water because they are not trained in land-water rescue. Police said they did not immediately step in because Zack was suicidal and possibly violent.
"It's a very tragic event," police Lt. Sean Lynch said. "But 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."
Since Zack's death, interim fire Chief Mike D'Orazi said he was instituting an immediate policy change that would allow a senior firefighter discretion on how best to respond to an emergency in the water. D'Orazi also said a rescue swimmer certification program for Alameda firefighters would be reinstituted.
D'Orazi said the department's land-water rescue program was shelved two years ago due to budget cuts, which also led to less training on rescues. The city currently relies on the U.S. Coast Guard for help when someone experiences trouble in the water.
"Obviously, we need to review any decisions that have been made in the past (about training) as we look at our current budget," Gilmore said.
Witness Sharon Brunetti said she watched as Zack stood with his back to the shore, sometimes glancing back over his shoulder at the beach.
Brunetti said Zack "gradually inched out farther and farther" from the shoreline. "The next thing he was floating face down," she said.
Lynch said it "couldn't be further from the truth" that emergency workers did nothing as Zack slowly succumbed.
"That's simply not the case," he said. "Every circumstance is different and there are protocols that need to be followed."
But Brunetti said witnesses were still shocked that no officer or firefighter went into the water to try and save Zack.
"It's like you are living in a different country that does not care about its citizens," she said.