Policy Review is Mandatory

Frank Borelli

It struck me not so much as sad as morally repulsive when I read this article on msnbc.com about how fire crews and police officers stood and watched a man drown because "policy strictly forbade them from trying to save the 50-year-old". I know it's not my place to criticize and typically I would assume an "I wasn't there so I can't judge" outlook, but even after the man had drowned himself it took a civilian witness to pull the body out of the water. What the heck?

It is a sad state of affairs when policy and budget cuts prohibit our public safety professionals from doing their job. Search and Rescue is a part of nearly every fire department's operational capabilities that I've ever seen. To some extent it is also a part of every law enforcement professional's job description. Protect and Serve doesn't mean JUST protecting people from crime; sometimes we protect them from themselves and sometimes we take action to save them from a threat without knowing it was they who created the threat or that they had a specific desire to kill themselves.

In the case described in the article, San Francisco fire and police professionals, due to budget cuts and policy changes, stood by for the better part of an hour and watched as the man drowned. The policy prohibiting water rescue was put into effect after budget cuts forced the fire department to discontinue the necessary training and equipment maintenance to perform such duties. NOW, after this incident (which the public safety leadership knew would hit the media and make them look bad), a policy rewrite has been ordered.

The budget cuts apparently hadn't just affected the fire department and police department there. On the beach where this occurred there were no lifeguards on duty either. Instead there are signs posted advising swimmers to enter the water at their own risk. I certainly understand that no municipality can afford to post lifeguards at every beach and potential swimming hole, but I think this incident speaks volumes about the condition of 1) today's culture and 2) today's economy.

What kind of world are we living in that a man can enter the water, hang out for an hour until he manages to drown himself and NO ONE does anything until after he's dead?

I encourage every public safety professional LEADER to review their own policies. I know budgets are severely limited. I also know that the men and women in public safety today, are of the caliber that they will take on training and accept risk if they can do their job of protecting and serving without their hands tied by policy that is more risk management oriented than public service oriented. LET your people be true to the oath they take. LET them be heroes. It's in their heart. It's why they put on that uniform. Don't dishonor them by preventing them from doing the job you should be praising them for.

All thoughts and comments appreciated...