San Jose reviews water rescue policies

June 1, 2011 7:18:22 PM PDT
A policy review is underway in San Jose where a fire department rescue team pulled a man from the Guadalupe River in March. The review follows what happened in Alameda Monday, when firefighters stood and watched a suicidal man drown because they were no longer certified to perform water rescues.

The actions of a rescue team that saved a man from a rain-swollen Guadalupe River are being investigated. It was a case of miscommunication, according to the fire department's public information officer.

"An officer said, 'If this person comes down, then get him,' and what they heard was 'get him,' so they thought he had already fallen in, they went in with the boats and went to try to get him," Capt. Scott Kouns said.

The team apparently did not know another team was already in place downstream.

The firefighters are members of USAR 34 -- a specially trained urban search & rescue team. They take additional training to get certified for a wide range of rescue operations. They also get 5 percent in extra pay.

But water rescue policies are in the process of negotiations between the firefighters union and the city, so what they can and cannot do is not set down in writing.

"In this particular case with the water rescue, that policy has not been completed," Kouns said. "We have a lot of other policies that they can, like trench rescues, if they have low-angle rescues, all those policies are in place."

Work on the water rescue policy has taken a back seat to budget cuts, layoffs and service reductions.

Residents hope rules, or the lack of them, do not jeopardize lives.

"The heck with it, my life is more important than the rules and somebody else is more important than the rule," Lenore Sheridan

"I'm very glad they are certified and with the knowledge that they can go in and save, and they have," Christine Milly said.

The San Jose Fire Department is not saying how soon it will have its water rescue policy in place.

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