Ricci Zombeck Would Let Your Kid Drown


JUNE 3, 2011


Alameda Fire Division Chief Ricci Zombeck (the one without the big hat) has told ABC News that he would rather let your child drown to death in the San Francisco Bay than to violate department rules that don’t allow these “heroic” first responders to respond to a potentially tragic event. Zombeck is the epitome of what is called administrative evil — the situation whereby seemingly normal people do evil things when they are members of large organizations. Just following orders, Maam.

ABC asked Zombeck whether he would save a drowning child and he said: “Well, if I was off duty I would know what I would do, but I think you’re asking me my on-duty response and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures because that’s what’s required by our department to do.”

Now if it was one of his fellow firefighting buddies or his kids, I’m guessing his answer would have been different.

Zombeck was being interviewed after his firefighters and the Alameda cops watched for an hour as a man drowned to death in the chilly bay waters. As an excuse, Alameda firefighters complained about budget cuts and said they didn’t have the proper training. The cops were worse. They said they didn’t know if the man — neck deep in water — was armed and dangerous. Here’s what the police spokesman said: “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.” What a bunch of bureaucratic, inhumane dolts. If they don’t want to deal with troubled people, they should in a different line of work. These jobs are occasionally dangerous, but not as dangerous as jobs such as roofing, taxi driving and fishing.

Let’s get back to Zombeck.  He would let a child drown because of the rules. He claims that he would try to save the child if he were off duty. I wouldn’t ever want to be in a position where my life was dependent on the actions of this functionary. But let’s assume he would do as he said and would help if he weren’t at work, but wouldn’t help in his official capacity as a rescuer. What does this say about fire departments?

Something is terribly wrong when we are far safer depending on bystanders — who might jump in and help out of a sense of human decency and obligation — than on the professionals who are being paid to rescue and protect us. Based on Zombeck’s own words, your child is safer when Zombeck and his employees are off duty rather than on duty. Why not shut down these expensive bureaucracies, then?

Seriously, if we have to depend on volunteers any way, why pay for the huge budgets, enormous salaries and $200K pensions. At the very least, Zombeck made the perfect case for privatization. Public agencies will not do the right thing because they are bound by bureaucratic rules. They admit it themselves. Isn’t it time then to come up a public safety system that actually is concerned about the public safety, and doesn’t just exist for the comfort, convenience and benefits of its employees?


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  1. larry 62
    larry 62 3 June, 2011, 15:36

    This guy and his department rules show all that is wrong with government in this state and this country today. People are afraid that if everything doesn’t go perfectly a law suit may well follow, therefore watch the man drown. Absolutely disgusting.

    Reply this comment
  2. Steven Greenhut
    Steven Greenhut 3 June, 2011, 15:47

    It’s not just the lawsuits, either. Public safety jobs increasingly are dominated by people without much public spiritedness. They like the pay, the perks and the power. They are only heroes when it comes time to lobby legislators for more money.

    Reply this comment
  3. David Bailey
    David Bailey 3 June, 2011, 16:53

    I have been on both sides of this debate, but it really comes down to principles. As for me, I would have initiated a rescue attempt regardless of “policy”. Then I would stand up to management and take what I get. But at the end of the day, I’d have my peace of mind that I helped my fellow man.

    I saw this happen with the LA riots at Florence and Normandy. Management was so concerned with policy and procedure, that they missed the root of our existence; to safeguard citizens.

    It is important to to reiterate this was a suicide attempt and as such, first responders are wary of the fact the individual may try to take people with them or cause LE to use deadly force (death by cop). It is VERY difficult to take someone into custody that is in the ocean. You cannot see what is in their hands or clothing. Would you wade into a suicide attempt knowing you might get stabbed or killed? Just to save someone who is trying to kill themselves? Its a tough call. One easily made by us at our desks as we write articles and comments, but it’s not so easy at the dynamically changing scene.

    Reply this comment
  4. Rick
    Rick 3 June, 2011, 17:42

    My local FD (Brea) recently responded to my 911 call in no more than 5 minutes and rushed me to the hospital quickly enough that I am able to sit here and add this comment today. Without their speedy ALS service, I would be dead.

    Reply this comment
  5. Claire Voyance
    Claire Voyance 3 June, 2011, 19:15

    Another good article written by the real hero who exposes the phony heroes. Keep up the good work.

    Reply this comment
  6. Christopher Green
    Christopher Green 3 June, 2011, 20:34

    It would be best for society if Chief Ricci Zombeck was placed permanently off duty. That way, he would be available to help in emergencies as opposed to being a highly paid but worthless bureaucrat.

    Reply this comment
  7. Freddie
    Freddie 4 June, 2011, 02:18

    This is only the tip of the iceburg. You need to dig deeper. Firefighters are over paid and under worked. Bums.

    Reply this comment
  8. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 4 June, 2011, 07:02

    This is a ‘pay back’ to the citizens who allowed the police and fire department budgets to be cut. The message is: If you won’t pay for our training programs, we won’t save your sorry a$$es.

    So they used to have these training programs, but now there are NO trained personnel in these departments? How can that be?

    Reply this comment
  9. Alamedan
    Alamedan 4 June, 2011, 07:35

    The budget cut excuse is a lie. The same march 16th memo cited by the fire department goes on to explain that funding was reinstated and re certification was to begin in 30-40 days – two years before zack died.


    Reply this comment
  10. jim daley
    jim daley 4 June, 2011, 08:24

    The abb divers and surfers must have retired from the dept.We need to raise taxes! I want to be safe , don’t you?

    Reply this comment
  11. Frank
    Frank 4 June, 2011, 08:24

    Hey, when you have a multi-million dollar pension and a job paying you a six figure income, why on earth would you put that at risk to save some poor sob that wanted to kill himself anyway? Like anyone with wealth, you have to manage your risk, otherwise you risk suffering a financial loss. The way their comp plans work they have to do their time to get the multi-million dollar payoff and sustaining an injury that forces you off of the job could result in huge financial losses. Anyone that doesn’t think that this weighs on the minds of public servants every day is delusional. There is not one of them that I have ever met that believes they could make anything close to what they make working in public safety. I am not justifying their actions, just explaining the thinking that goes on with nearly all p/s officials today.

    Reply this comment
  12. Bobnormal
    Bobnormal 4 June, 2011, 09:16

    I’m sorry (wait, no I’m not) but The only word to describe these vermin are PUSSIES! Cops hide behind their guns, firefighters hide behind… Regulations. Nowadays, I have lost all respect for these
    False “heroes” and have no reason to believe they are paid to “serve and protect” myself or family, Have a great weekend,

    Reply this comment
  13. Alamedan
    Alamedan 4 June, 2011, 10:02

    The same memo that the Alameda fire department used to excuse themselves shows that they have no excuse.

    That March 16th 2009 memo, in the closing paragraphs, indicates that new funding had been approved, and recertification would begin within 30 to 45 days. That’s two years before Raymond Zack got in the water.

    Why were no firefighters recertified in those two years?


    Reply this comment
  14. Liz
    Liz 4 June, 2011, 11:37

    Hear, hear! It’s high-time we ended the reign of terror of the highly-paid, out-of-shape overly-entitled bureaucrats who trade on a past public perception of heroism. Steve, thanks for calling this what it is: evil. Best post I’ve read in…maybe ever.

    Reply this comment
  15. Rick
    Rick 5 June, 2011, 07:24

    How about we fire ’em all? Would that make everyone happy?

    Reply this comment
  16. Sol
    Sol 5 June, 2011, 18:25

    I’d rather have Fire Marshal Bill be in charge of my local fire department than zombie Zombeck.

    He is more than willing to mindlessly follow orders no matter how many die.

    When will people realize that the biggest threat to their property, their economic well being, their liberty and even their lives is their own government?

    Reply this comment
  17. LB Firefighter Chris
    LB Firefighter Chris 6 June, 2011, 10:24

    This article is irresponsible. How many people would run a red light to get a child to the hospital? Probably most of us, but only if the situation made it viable. How many would go on camera and state they would advocate that action in every case, for everyone else? No one in their right mind would say that.

    Policies exist to protect the public from bad decisions made in the heat of the moment, and a suicidal man standing in the water is not a drowning victim in need of rescue. Throw the word “bureaucrat” around all you like to whip up a conservative frenzy, but they made the right call.

    No responsible person would allow a child to drown if they had the power to act. We all know this, and this article is outrageous. If I were the author, I would be embarrassed to appear so petty and mean.

    Show some respect for people who dedicate their professional lives to the service of others.

    Reply this comment
  18. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 6 June, 2011, 12:03

    Not to take away from how much of a COWARD Zombeck is, but rest of the “Public Servants” that stood on the beach that day and watched a man die need to be exposed just as much as Zombeck. Any one of them could have told Zombeck to f-off and walked into the water and avoided this whole situation.

    Zombeck would have punished them according to their “Procedures” but the firefighter can just call up his union rep & the local news and his punishment would be immediately repealed & the news outlets would report how he had the courage to do what was right. That is the whole point of these guys having union representation, so they dont get fired for doing the right thing. If the unions do not serve that purpose any more then they are useless and should be abolished.

    Every other coward that stood on that beach is just as guilty as Zombeck and all of them should resign out of shame. They have disgraced an entire profession and have exposed themselves as worthless union pawns who do nothing to make the public any safer.

    Reply this comment
  19. A resident in Alameda
    A resident in Alameda 7 June, 2011, 09:46

    The water that day was like a big pond. 63* according to the National Oceanographic Data Center. The water was calm. The firemen, policemen, mayor, and other top dogs in Alameda are all making excuses for the laziness of the “leader” here.

    Reply this comment
  20. A resident in Alameda
    A resident in Alameda 7 June, 2011, 09:47

    That should have been “leaders” in the post above.

    Reply this comment
  21. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 7 June, 2011, 10:10

    Firefighter Chris, Zombeck himself said he wouldnt go in to save a child if he were on duty, how is the author being irresponsible for reporting that? If you have a problem with firefighters being portrayed in this way, take it up with Zombeck, he is the one who went out of his way to NOT save the person and he is the one who tried to justify their inactivity by saying he would do the same thing if it was a child in the water.

    Its not reporters that are making the fire department look bad, its the fire department themselves & the disgusting attempt to justify their inaction & use the death as a call for more money.

    Reply this comment
  22. LB Firefighter Chris
    LB Firefighter Chris 7 June, 2011, 14:17

    You guys have all the answers. I guess I should hang up my gear and get a job doing something meaningful.

    Chief Zombeck gave two responses to the question. The author chose the most convenient for his own agenda (everyone paid by the government is a phony, evil leech), and deliberately crafted it to suit his own purposes. That is irresponsible. Zombeck was not willing to draw out the differences in each situation at that moment out of respect for the deceased, and it caught him off guard. I would hope that I would have answered a little differently, but it was a losing proposition.

    A 280 lb suicidal wader is not the same thing as a drowning child. We all know this.

    The article is irresponsible because it is supremely disrespectful. Mr. Greenhut clearly states that Chief Zombeck would let your kid drown. He did not say that (and my “kid” is a child, thank you very much). If Chief Zombeck’s career has been anything like mine, he has held far too many dying children in his arms, and it would truly be a painful blow to be accused of this.

    It is the modern day equivalent of calling a returning war veteran a baby killer.

    Using such language should be reserved for the worst offenders of humanity, and while I don’t know Chief Zombeck, there is nothing about him that warrants this type of vitriol. I am stunned at the venom toward firefighters I find here.

    If anyone wants to discuss this over coffee, I’ll be in San Francisco this week. You may have heard that there will be a funeral, and it’s not for a roofer or taxi driver.

    Reply this comment
  23. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 7 June, 2011, 14:28

    I love the excuse-making by firefighters. Zombeck’s people just watched a guy drown and did nothing. Then he was asked if he would save a drowning child in the same situation and he clearly said he would not do so while on duty. Yet even his own admission isn’t sufficient for his fellow firefighting defenders. I used the word “kid” for the headline fit, but the reporter asked if he would save a child. The answer was no. This is the kind of thing that is common by highly paid, unionized firefighter/bureaucrats. The 72 percent of the nation’s firefighters who are volunteers tend to be a much more public-spirited lot.

    Reply this comment
  24. LB Firefighter Chris
    LB Firefighter Chris 8 June, 2011, 04:49

    Perhaps you could share what your experience is with volunteer fire departments that assures you that they tend to have more public spirit? Or that they (or a private fire brigade) would have affected this rescue?

    Reply this comment
  25. Mal Robison
    Mal Robison 8 June, 2011, 08:52

    I was born and raised in Alameda and am a proud gradute of Encinal High School, class of ’66. I moved to Texas in 1971 and have lived in the Dallas area ever since. For the first time in my life, I am ashamed to say I am from Alameda. How can there even be a debate over this? Having worked for 30 years in corporate environments with companies such as Xerox and American Airlines, I am well aware of the importance of complying with established policies and procedures, but in a life and death situation all that goes out the window. How could these men, trained rescue workers, sit by and watch someone die like that? I would have hoped that these normally brave men would save the victim and worry about what rules might have been broken later. What is on the side of the Alameda Fire Trucks and EMT vehicles? Something like protect and serve? Maybe an addendum should be added that states “unless it contradicts with policy and procedures…”

    Reply this comment
  26. Tylerle13
    Tylerle13 8 June, 2011, 17:53

    Chris, there is nothing that can be said that will justify the ACTIONS & ANSWERS that came straight from the horses (Zombecks) mouth. Everything being said about Zombeck is well deserved because it is based upon his actions & the actions of people under his command. This guy makes $300K a year, yet fails to live up to the minimum expectations that the tax payers have of them. They did not even attempt to make contact with the man. They did not request the service/ equipment of all of the other bay area departments like they told us they did(They just called them, they never asked for assistance). They did not try to think of a way to save his life, they just looked for a way to spin this death into additional funding for them.

    Zombeck does not deserve the title of “Public Servant” and he sure as hell does not deserve a paycheck for pretending to be a hero. Dr Kevorkian went to jail for basically doing the same thing that Zombeck did, but atleast Kevorkian’s victims were chronically ill, Zombeck let this man die either because Zombeck is a coward or he was looking for a reason to demand more money, either way Zombeck is a dispicable human being and should be fired.

    Reply this comment
  27. JoeCop
    JoeCop 7 July, 2012, 07:24

    Any firefighter that would stand by and watch someone drown SHOULD hang up his/her gear and go to work doing something they may be good at. Rescue is obviously not one of them. I’ve been a LEO for 27 years, and on the east coast where I work, it would have been a footrace between the PD and FD as to who got out there first. I guess the west coast does things differently, but to be filmed standing there with your hands in your pockets watching someone drown, sad. And yes, suicidal people can be dangerous, but that’s the job we’re paid to do. Don’t like it? Quit.
    Dammit, have some respect for your self and your profession.

    Reply this comment

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