First responders get new training tool to save people who jump from Golden Gate Bridge

As construction continues to install a steel net under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to prevent suicides, first responders can now practice rescuing people who jump into the net.

On Friday, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District approved an $824,000 project to build a rescue training network at the Southern Marina Fire Department’s Mill Valley facility.

Construction of a suicide prevention grid on the Golden Gate Bridge was first approved in 2014 with a specified completion date of 2021, but the project is two years behind schedule due to staff turnover and changes in the main contractor, according to District General Manager Denis Mulligan. The network is now scheduled to be completed in November 2023 after the construction company was bought and sold twice.

Costs have also increased, from the project’s original $76 million budget to about $215 million, Mulligan said, because costs have increased since the project was first contemplated.

“The cost escalation was a culmination of things costing more tomorrow than they do today, and the original estimate underestimated the complexity of building something under the bridge,” he said.

A note reads, "stay here my friend" on a railing on the Golden Gate Bridge

A notice is written on a handrail above where a suicide prevention net will be installed on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2019.

(Josh Edelson / For the Times)

Since opening in 1937, more than 1,800 people have fallen to their deaths from the iconic span, the most of any bridge in the United States. Over the years, families of victims and psychiatrists working with the non-profit Bridge Rail Foundation have campaigned for life-saving changes to be made to the bridge.

In 2021, 223 people came onto the bridge to try to harm themselves, according to Mulligan. Of these, 198 were stopped and 25 people jumped. In 2020 the numbers were similar: 213 got on the bridge, 185 were stopped and 28 jumped.

On average, first responders, patrol officers, the California Highway Patrol and the US Coast Guard have saved 30 lives a year, Mulligan said.

“There is no nobler task than saving lives, and building is expensive, but being able to save 30 lives a year… it’s 30 families, 30 groups of friends who are not left alone and struggling with the loss of people who… love them,” he said.

A boy climbs a tree and looks at the Golden Gate Bridge

A boy climbs a tree and looks at the Golden Gate Bridge

(Josh Edelson / For the Times)

The new training facility, which will be built on the Southern Marin Fire Project District’s existing training tower, will include a replica of the net and will be used by all first responders to practice rescuing people.

Mulligan said that when a net is installed, it prevents people from jumping to their deaths almost 100%.

“In general, people stop jumping in these places,” he said. “Only a few people fall into the net, but it’s important to train for the worst.”

Although the number of suicides has remained stable over the years, Mulligan says more and more people have turned up at the bridge to injure themselves. The bridge jumper demographic has also rejuvenated in recent years.

“For young people between the ages of 16 and 24, suicide was the third leading cause of death 15 years ago. Now it’s the second leading cause of death,” Mulligan said. “Suicide is something we don’t talk about a lot in our society and the bridge’s issues in many ways reflect broader society. It’s tragic when a young person is having a bad day or coping with a breakup and takes a step they can’t come back from.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-30/golden-gate-bridge-suicide-prevention-rescue-net-san-francisco First responders get new training tool to save people who jump from Golden Gate Bridge

Alley Einstein

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