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Alameda County Cowards

When people burned to death in the UK because first responders failed to do their job, I considered it the UK Socialist disease which we all know has progressed to a stage that is nearly terminal. I did not believe such a thing could happen in the US. I did not think we produced cowards of such grandious scale.

But we do.

First responders, both Police and Fireeman let a suicidal man drown because the water was too cold and they might have got a chill.

Awww. Those poor little children. The got their pretend fire and police helmets for Christmas some years back and never realized that real first responders have to do very dangerous things and put their lives on the line to save people. Their job is to risk death that others might live.

I hope the people of Alameda County fire all of them and hire some adults. I suspect there are quite a lot of military Vets who have the guts and determination to actually do the job.

I wish we could kick them out of the USA. They are an embarrassment.

35 comments to Alameda County Cowards

  • Steven Rockwell

    I don’t think that’s fair. The departmens in the story have a policy in place that requires boats for water rescues. They show up and there’s no boat. The responders train to the policy. They don’t go out which means some guy trying to kill himself succeeded.

    Suppose they went out and one of the firemen drowned or died from hypothermia. All of the gnashing of teeth and wailing will be about how they were ill-equiped or the foolish firefighter violated department policy so he could be a hero to try to save a guy who wanted to die. I doubt the cops or firefighters were twiddling their thumbs while this guy’s body temperature dropped to the point of death. In between thoguhs of how to go out and get this guy were thoughts about how if they go out they’re getting fired for violating department policy. Their hands were tied from department management.

    The job entails risk to be sure, the risk to the cops and firefighters is tried to be minimized by said policies. Sometimes the policy has an unintended consequence, like a suicidal man getting his way, a suicidal man who was standing in neck deep water and who could have walked out at any time if he wanted to live by the way.

  • Chip

    Oh please. It took a bystander to go and retrieve the body. If people paid to take risks, and in California they are paid six figure salaries, don’t in fact take them because of department regulation 19345.12, Appendix B, then We should turn over all such duties to said bystanders and save some money.

  • PaulH

    I’m surprised this is seen as a problem here. Quite apart from the fact that they didn’t act in case they “got a chill”, there actions ultimately respected the individual’s right to control his own destiny. I’d thought that would be seen as a good thing.

  • Dale Amon

    So, Mr Rockwell, “they were only following orders”?

    Give me a break. The appropriate response was to do the job. If I were one of them and my superior said don’t, I had have called him out even if it meant losing a job. A life is more important.

    And as to one of them losing their life due to not having the gear? Let the old ladies (and I insult old ladies because many of them have a lot more guts than the Alameda police and fire) twitter over the aftermath. Their job is to save lives. If a regulation gets in the way, screw the regulation… if the regulation writers had tried to fire a heroic responder, we’d be able to go after them instead. Ultimately they are the ones most deserving of scorn, right behind those who hide behind them.

  • Dale Amon

    I believe it is the slogan in the US Coast Guard when they are called out: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.”

  • Eric

    I did not think we produced cowards of such grandious scale.

    But we do.

    I don’t think they are cowards. Rather, they’re bureaucrats who won’t do anything to jeopardize their pension.

  • I read an account of this story and went straight to Samizdata to post about it. You beat me to it, Dale.

    The point about suicide being a person’s own choice, made above by Steven Rockwell, has something to it. But it does not hold in my opinion for two reasons

    (1) some sorts of “suicide” pretty obviously do not have full intention behind them. Standing in cold water for an hour is one such. That sounds to me like the traditional “cry for help” – not realising the usual sources of help had fallen from the standards of help-giving they once held to. (Not that I excuse the behaviour of a suicidal or semi-suicidal person who endangers others.)

    (2) The motives of the suicide have little bearing on the stated reason the fire and police services gave for not intervening. They have said they would “respond” in the same way to any drowning person. It says in the linked article,

    After a local TV news crew asked him whether he would save a drowning child in the bay, Alameda Fire Chief Ricci Zombeck gave an answer that made him the butt of local talk-show mockery: “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.”

    This case has parallels with the one I posted about here. Scroll down a little to the part about a Scottish fireman, Tam Brown, who saved a suicidal woman in the River Tay, only to be faced with disciplinary action.

  • Nuke Gray

    Wasn’t it a Roman who complained, “Where other lands have plagues of locusts, we have laws”? They should have cut up all that red tape, and used it to save people! Still, democracy means laws and regulations- how could it not? Politicians can only get into power by promising to pass laws to fix problems, especially if they are the ones to talk up the problem! Then they’ve got a mandate to meddle. What chance for glory is there, if they do nothing?

  • Eric writes, “I don’t think they are cowards. Rather, they’re bureaucrats who won’t do anything to jeopardize their pension.”

    Indeed! And Nuke Gray makes a related point. Apologies for quoting myself, but I have been tying for years to puzzle out what makes people want this world where regulation stifles courage:

    Perhaps, in the case of those who make these regulations, it is a peverted delicacy. Some are offended by the eruption of death or violence into their paper world, by the bloody evidence that not everything is covered by their rules. Below that delicacy, deeper and colder than mere personal malice, is a hatred of efficacy.

  • FlyingPig

    First, it is the City of Alameda, which amounts to about 5% of Alameda County. As a former police officer in a nearby city, I broke regulations all the time in similar situations, and was always threatened with termination and loss of pension. I came to hate the place so much that I quit after 19 years and moved nearly 6000 miles to get away from the place. The front line coppers and fire fighters WANT to do the right thing, but the burro-crats who are promoted off the street because they can’t do the front line jobs — fire THEM! The pension savings should be significant, as they are the only folks making six figures.

    Also, I might have let this one drown — that’s what HE wanted, and as long as he’s not endangering others, what right would I have to intrude? And it takes a whole lot of commitment to drown yourself.

  • Kim du Toit

    “I did not believe such a thing could happen in the US.”

    It didn’t. It happened in Northern California. None of those places (Chicago, NYC, Boston, San Francisco etc) are part of the United States anymore — at least, philosophically speaking.

    They’re part of Europe, and the rest of the country knows it.

  • Dale Amon

    FlyingPig: by their deeds you shall know them. It sounds like you had the guts to do the right thing.

    A century or so ago the townspeople would have caught the cowards alone and painted a yellow stripe down their backs to shame them. We don’t do that any more. But we do have the internet. I hope people name and shame these sad substitutes for human beings.

    As to the bureaucrats? You probably know who some of them are. Why don’t you start a blog and name them. Make them wallow in public shame. Don’t forgive them, don’t accept any excuses. Either you save a life or you do not. It is binary. Either you attempt to save a life or you do not. That is binary. You have to go out, but you do not have to come back… that is what is expected of anyone who takes those jobs and it is the basis upon which society honors and respects them.

  • Kristopher

    I am more worried about whether or not they would let a child drown in the same situation.

    An adult suicide? Let him have his wish. I don’t care if he is crazy … crazy does not abrogate basic human rights.

    But this institutionalized cowardice might cost an innocent person their life if allowed to continue.

  • Surellin

    Darn it, Kim, you beat me to it – this is the Bay area, not the USA.

  • Eric Tavenner

    It didn’t. It happened in Northern California. None of those places (Chicago, NYC, Boston, San Francisco etc) are part of the United States anymore — at least, philosophically speaking.

    They’re part of Europe, and the rest of the country knows it.

    Darn it, Kim, you beat me to it – this is the Bay area, not the USA.


  • Midwesterner

    I read the fire chief’s reply and understood him completely.

    After a local TV news crew asked him whether he would save a drowning child in the bay, Alameda Fire Chief Ricci Zombeck gave an answer that made him the butt of local talk-show mockery: “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.”

    In the past I sat through any number of meetings drafting safety rules for staff who taught a dangerous sport to lots of people. Outside of work parameters our instructors have proven themselves doing sometimes dangerous rescues. The risk we faced was law suits against us by an injured instructor or their next of kin. What they did on their own time we were not liable for. What they did on our time, we were.

    The solution in the case of professional responders is simple but requires a state law. Much as Wisconsin eliminates liability against private property owners for accidents that happen on their premises (provided they are not in any way accepting any remuneration for the persons presence there), organizations who’s staff may be called on to engage in rescues or other dangerous life saving/protecting activity should have liability capped at an amount agreed to at the time of employment. These organizations can and already do carry most of that as insurance, this would be an additional pay out for staff who die or are disabled in the line of duty and would be pre-negotiated.

    The fire chief is in a bind here and he makes that apparent (but not very clear) in his answer. If he and the commission place the taxpayers in the position of taking a huge financial hit in the liability law suit lotto, then he is not serving the tax payers in a financially responsible way. Of course this is California we are talking about and I almost gagged when I typed that. The solution is to just cap your liability in the employment contract (and bind that in state law) and then train your staff and trust their judgment.

    As a minarchist, I think taxpayer funded community safety services should be replaced with/returned to insurance funded and/or volunteer services but that isn’t the world we live in and an employer/employee mutually agreed liability cap at employment time would be a useful step.

  • FlyingPig

    Let a kid drown? No. One of my colleagues pulled one out of a smaller body of water and did CPR until the kid was breathing again. The captain DID mention violation of regulations, but I was among many who gave that a real cold stare. No matter how vile the parents may be, we all had a soft spot for kids — even those of us who didn’t have any, yet.

    Kim — we used to refer to our city as the People’s Soviet Republic of… and the state IS Californistan. I rather enjoyed range days with other departments. “How can you work THERE?” “Keep your head down and your mouth shut” (my uncle’s advice when I started). When I left I told a few friends that I had to get out of there before I killed someone. Someone with some rank…

    The best thing that could happen to CA would be total insolvency. But it might trigger a civil war. The “perpetual handout” crowd outnumbers the rest of us, and they are well organized. Could get real ugly.

    Dale — I’d love to name names, but just like any other person who defected from a Soviet regime, I still have lots of relatives there. When I go back, I will NOT be returning to CA! Montana is beginning to look nice…

    Lastly, suicides were all too frequent. We would try to talk them out of it, but if they were committed they would do it. Sometimes Charles Darwin just cannot be denied, in spite of all the left-wing babble of sociologists.

  • Steven Rockwell

    So, Mr Rockwell, “they were only following orders”?

    Yes, because not attempting a water rescue without a boat because it is extraordinarily risky for the rescuers is exactly the same thing as stuffing Jews into an oven.

    Also, the Coast Guard motto is entirely because of the regulations. They have to go out to a distress call if the station’s boat can be launched. They don’t have to swim there if there is no boat available. (Link) Kind of the same way firefighters aren’t required to run into a burning building when no firetrucks are on hand or police aren’t required to chase speeders when on foot patrol.

  • Dale Amon

    Required? No, they should not be required to either go in nor to stay out. That is a personal choice. But we have names for the two types of people. The ones who stand outside and listen to the screams are called ‘cowards’. The ones who go in and risk their lives and save someone are called ‘heroes’. The ones who at least give it a shot are worthy of respect. The ones who die trying are due much honor from all of us.

    I won’t give an inch on what I think of those planaria fellating scum who sully their profession by the very act of being part of it.

  • Dale Amon

    I also refuse to back down from the ‘following orders’ statement. It is not a defense to me that you did or did not do the right thing because you were told to. You are an independant moral agent and the decision is ultimately yours alone. It may well be that an honest answer is ‘I was terrified’ or ‘Keeping my job was more important to me than saving the life of a stranger’. At least someone who says that has the one good point of not being a liar as well as being a coward.

  • Dale Amon

    I will also add that no one really knows if they are coward or hero until the situation arises where one must make the choice to risk or not risk. This is why a cancer patient is not ‘heroic’. They might be ‘stoic’ but there is no choice. They simply are living with reality. A true hero makes a choice, overcomes fear and does the extraordinary.

    Meanwhile the craven stands at the battle’s edge and makes excuses: “Had I a sword of keener steel, like that blue blade the King’s son bears…”

  • Steven Rockwell

    Pithy sayings about cowardice ad heroics aside, first responders are not volunteers for suicide missions. We don’t live in the Victorian Age anymore: very few people today would put on their Sunday best, twirl their moustache, and sip a fine brandy while the water rises up about them. We live in a world where cops and firemen and Coast Guardsmen train to a standard, train their doctrine, and train to a set policy. Those standards, doctrines, and policies exist to make sure those same first responders can do their job with the least risk to themselves as possible. All of those same standards, doctrines, and policies are in place because heroes needlessly died to save some moron and the bosses investigated what happens and answered the question, “how could this have been handled differently so Responder X didn’t die?”

    I’m sure in your world, Fireman Jones would have gladly stripped off his bunker gear, bared his barrel chest while smiling (and showing off his glimmering perfect teeth) and lept right in the freezing water with a perfect jack knife dive, only to swim back to shore, moron in tow, and then lept out of the water to the adoring masses only to say, “’twas nothing but a day’s work lads.” In my world Fireman Smith says, “whoa, it’s too cold to go into the water. Firefighters will die for sure. We need a boat.” And of course, Fire Chief Brown says, “besides, we’ve trained them to do it this way because it leaves the least to chance for error and has the best chance to bring the whole lot of them home at the end of their shift.”

    Everyone knows being a first responder is dangerous work and has risks, but the name of the game is minimizing the risks. It’s too risky to put firefighters int he water without a boat, so we don’t do it. Were you ever a Boy Scout? Remember Reach Throw Row Go? Go is the last option because it is a bad idea. Obviously the policy makers in Alameda agree, so they said, “nope. Boat or nothing.”

    I’d rather some suicidal moron die than a firefighter just so we can have a nice tearful moment on the shore and wax poetic about how brave he was.

  • Kristopher

    Flyingpig: You make my point for me.

    In order to save a child, someone had to defy orders and dare a superior to make an issue of it.

    If this cowardice gets permanently institutionalized, then eventually only those who will obey will remain in the department.

    You have already made the decision to serve in a real FD ( outside of blue state “America” ), I think.

  • Dale Amon

    Mr. Rockwell. Your efforts to rationalize cowardice are fascinating. I sincerely hope you are not a first responder because you do not seem to be the sort I would want on the scene were I in difficulty.

    You train to a standard. And when duty calls for it, you reach inside and you go beyond it.

    They were cowards.

  • Steven Rockwell

    Are you a first responder? Police, fire, EMS, or the like?

  • Dale Amon

    No. But most whom I know are men and women who have honor and courage.

    As to how I would react? I can only say that I’ve stood and stared unblinking at a biker gang leader who held a grenade under my nose with the pin pulled while the rest of the gang surrounded me to see how I’d react. I simply told myself I’d see him in hell before I’d show fear. And yes, I confirmed it was real. Found out for sure years later.

    I’ve also faced a few other incidents of extreme peril. and got myself and others out of them. Enough experience to have learned a bit about what sort of man I am.

    So I have some basis, perhaps uncertain as such things are, of how I react when my life is on the line.

  • jsallison

    The guy chose to be there and initiated the chain of events that led to his death. While I find it sad that no one present could summon up the necessary to do what was needful he got what he apparently wanted. Would I have responded differently? I like to think so, but I wasn’t there.

  • Richard Thomas

    I have to agree with Mr Rockwell here. People die trying to perform rescues unprepared. You see it all the time and it has happened in my family. It left my daughter with no grandfathers and possibly contributed to the early death of my mother.

    These first responders are not gung-ho adventurers, they are trained professionals. There is a right way to do a job and that is the way to do it.

    In this particular case, possibly it was a bit borderline but in this case, in my opinion, the best thing would have been for one of the cops to draw their firearm and two in the head then home for cocoa. Someone who would perform an action which endangers others unnecessarily (which it would have, even were a boat present – Did I mention the rescuers that needed hospital treatment after attempting to rescue my father and father-in-law? I guess I did now).

    Bottom line, this isn’t a Hollywood movie. If things go wrong, people die. Fathers, friends, husbands, sons. These people *do* risk their lives (though I have certain opinions about many police) and it isn’t really anyone’s place to be calling them cowards without looking at their record and basing it on a single incident. I’d lay good odds that if it was someone who had genuinely fallen in, they would have been gotten out. Heck, the guy was suicidal, who’s to say he wouldn’t have grabbed on and taken someone with him.

    I’m sure that some people may not get what I am saying. My writing is charged with emotion but I assure that it is tempered with rationality. If anything I’m trying to say is unclear, I’m happy to unravel it.

  • Richard Thomas

    Wait Dale, you are telling me that you saw someone commit several serious illegal acts in front of you and you didn’t perform a citizen’s arrest?

  • Nuke Gray

    Look on the bright side- we’ll soon be able to give up war entirely- it’ll be regulated out of existence by a bureaucrat! You’ll have mandated time off, you won’t need to exercise so much (stress levels can cause all kinds of illnesses!), and you won’t be allowed to do anything unless you have exactly the right equipment! Your chances of survival are excellent, even if you do end up in a war!
    Some people might be inconvenienced, and die, but a bureaucrat has made the world safer, over-all!

  • Dale, I’m with you, at least emotionally, in that I would expect the rescuers to respond differently, but I think that you are missing a point here: there is no way you can tell that those people are cowards on the basis of this incident alone. For all we know, they may be very brave people, who are even willing to sacrifice their lives under certain circumstances – the fact that those circumstances may be different from the ones in your or mine expectations is a separate matter. IOW, they have a different set of priorities. The real problem is the system that at least partly dictates those priorities. You could well say ‘screw the system’, but that would mean that you cannot be part of it (see FlyingPig above).

  • Preston Hill

    Late on this thread I am, but I can’t resist asking. How many of you have actually fought, for combat it definitely can be, with a drowning person? How many of you have resuscitated a person who, according to the measure of that time, had already drowned? As a young man I was trained to do those things and did them. Now, no longer anything like young, I might still go out for a child but I don’t know whether I could handle an adult. How many of you understand or have even heard the rule “Row, throw, tow, go…”?

    Once, when I was still fairly young, but no longer working in the water, I was ashore and didn’t go out for a boy–there was heavy surf, a over head shore break and an extremely nasty rip. That was in a rural area far down the Mexican Pacific coast. The boy survived, thanks to another man who was just finishing a ride on a surfboard. Had the surfer not happened to be there I can’t say to a certainty whether I would have gone out or not. The next day I pulled out a local man in the same place. The surf and rip had abated only slightly. Possibly that act was some sort of redemption, but I’ll remember and occasionally relive my initial failure for the rest of my very long life.

    Life can be difficult when you have choices. May I ask whether you went to the grenade by choice? Who is any of us to say, to speak of cowardice?

  • Dale Amon

    I’m going to bookend this discussion with a few corrections. First of all, if anyone thought I was saying that a rescuer should always rush into a situation with no evaluation of the situation, then the point was missed. An individual makes that decision based on the situation they are in and not on the rules of a bureaucrat.

    In this particular case, a man walked out into the bay and stood neck deep for a very long time until overcome by the cold, at which point he drowned. Most firemen I have known are the size of pro football players. They would likely have been shoulders above water at the same distance. In addition they most likely would have had body mass (heat storage mass) far above the guy who was standing out there. The fact that he was standing and did not actually go further tells me he wanted talked out of it. With his limbs cold I do not think he could have given much fight.

    But they stood there, followed regulations and watched until the cold seeped into him and he finally went under.

    That is just plain sick.

  • Dale Amon

    PS: I do know someone saved from drowning when some brave person went in despite great risk. She in turn passed on the favor by saving someone else when she was older.

    Incident noted above: no not by choice, at least in the sense of walking in knowing it ahead of time. Not meant to be an example of heroics, only that at that time and that place I was calm and thinking very clearly and very quickly in the face of something which would make many irrational and terror striken. It is only a personal data point on my reaction to high danger, nothing more.

  • I just remembered that I was also once saved from drowning. No way I could pass that on in that particular form though, as unfortunately I have not become a better swimmer since then. And, to this day (it happened something like 30 years ago) I have no idea who the guy was.