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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