Finally Dispense With 'Hero' Nonsense
by Steven Greenhut: WikiLeaks
No Threat to Free Society
Not only did
Alameda firefighters and police stand around, watch and do nothing
as a suicidal man, Raymond Zack, spent an hour in the San Francisco
Bay, neck deep in water, they didn’t even go into the water to retrieve
his lifeless body after he died. They left that work to a bystander.
To make this incident even more infuriating, police and fire officials
defended the inactions of their employees and blamed budget cuts
and city policy for this inhumane behavior by those who often claim
to be selfless protectors of the public.
At least we
can dispense with all the hero nonsense from public safety "first
responders" who use the hero card whenever they are negotiating
for higher pay, better pensions and other bigger budget items. When
it comes time to actually act like heroes, they often act like bureaucrats.
Certainly, as a deadly fire in San Francisco Thursday that claimed
the life of at least one firefighter shows, these jobs can be dangerous
(although they don't come near the top of the most-dangerous-jobs
list). But the Alameda tragedy is an increasingly common situation
as officials put their own safety, comfort and bureaucratic priorities
above everything else.
Per the MSNBC
report: "Interim Alameda Fire Chief Mike D'Orazi said that
due to 2009 budget cuts his crews did not have the training or cold-water
gear to go into the water. ‘The incident yesterday was deeply regrettable,’
he said Tuesday. ‘But I can also see it from our firefighters' perspective.
They’re standing there wanting to do something, but they are handcuffed
by policy at that point.’"
For God’s sake,
blaming budget cuts is reprehensible especially given the large
chunk of local budgets that firefighting services consume. Simple
decency required some effort – rather than standing around and gawking
by these highly paid professionals – to save a troubled man. The
bystander who fished out his body didn’t have cold-water gear (let
alone a big pension from the fire department), but she jumped into
the water any way and acted like an actual human being. The water
was a bit chilly (54 degrees) but it's not Alaska.
quoted a local resident who made the sensible point: "This
just strikes me as not just a problem with funding, but a problem
with the culture of what's going on in our city, that no one would
take the time and help this drowning man." And it’s a huge
cultural problem within any firefighting department that would put
budgetary complaints and red tape above doing their basic human
mission of saving someone in harm’s way.
police showed even deeper bureaucratic inhumanity. "Certainly
this was tragic, but police officers are tasked with ensuring public
safety, including the safety of personnel who are sent to try to
resolve these kinds of situations," Alameda police Lt. Sean Lynch
told the San Jose Mercury News. "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."
is typical from police agencies. First they say that officer safety
is their first priority. Then they blame the victim. Well, if you’re
not going to do your job and endure even an iota of risk, then let’s
stop playing up the risks to officers. And helping suicidal people
and troubled people of all sort is part of the job of a police officer,
one would think. No one, of course, will be held accountable for
any of this, which is how it works in the public sector, and especially
with public safety agencies.
The whole scene
sounded like something from the Three Stooges, except with tragic
results. According to the MSNBC report, "The Coast Guard was
called to the scene, but the water was too shallow for its boat.
A Coast Guard helicopter arrived more than an hour later because
it had been on another call and had to refuel."
if he would save a drowning child in such waters, Alameda Fire Chief
Ricci Zombeck offered this bureaucratic and maddening answer to
an ABC news reporter "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."
then, we are safer without these departments. A heroic bystander
might at least jump in the water and try to save your kid while
the professional, well-paid, highly pensioned "hero" is forbidden
by policy (and a bureaucratic attitude) to do so.
cops and Coast Guard, with all their personnel and top-of-the-line
equipment, were incapable of even trying to save the life of a man
who stood neck deep in water for an hour. Something definitely is
wrong with this picture. It reminds me of another incident in Philadelphia
I wrote about for LewRockwell.com a few years ago:
videotaped ‘rescue’ along the Schuylkill River last May [police
and firefighters] did nothing other than watch for a half-hour or
so as a troubled man clung to the side of a bridge, then jumped
off and drowned. … [T]hey were joking around as the tragic event
transpired. It took a roller-blading passerby and another bystander
to attempt a rescue. … And the officials wouldn’t touch [the dying
man] or try to resuscitate him until the rubber gloves and other
safety equipment was on the scene. They left the dirty work for
the brave volunteers. This infuriating response didn’t merit a rebuke
from the police commissioner, who actually praised the assembled
cops for their efforts after a public outcry ensued."
getting punished, Alameda officials will get rewarded – with additional
training dollars. But who really believes that even if that money
had been available and the policy been different that these first
responders would have done the right thing? The local resident was
right. The problem is a deep cultural one, something I see to be
endemic in the government agencies that always claim to protect
and serve us.
fire agencies are bureaucracies and, as such, they end up functioning
in a similar manner to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the IRS
and any other alphabet soup agency you can name. As writer Thomas
Sowell put it, "You will never understand bureaucracies until
you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and
outcomes are nothing."
And so normal
people stand around wondering how we can end up with such a bad
outcome – a needless death – while the bureaucracies, stuck as they
are on procedure, tell us they acted appropriately.
time the public starts rethinking our public safety policy and starts
wondering whether the creation of big costly bureaucracies, encumbered
by ridiculous rules and designed mainly around the convenience and
safety of those working in the agencies, is the best way to protect
the public’s safety.
Greenhut (send him mail)
is editor-in-chief of CalWatchdog.com
and a widely published opinion writer. He is the author of the book,
of Power, and his latest, Plunder!.
© 2011 Steven Greenhut