Comment of the Day: “The Death of Raymond Zack”

Raymond Zack

Buck Best, a Northern Virginia firefighter and supervisor, weighs in with his expert perspective and nuanced insight regarding my post on the Alameda, Cal. incident involving a suicide by drowning. His wife Lianne had another Comment of the Day earlier this week; if this keeps up, I will have to call the feature “Best Comment of the Day.”

“As an 18 year veteran of the Fire Dept. and the last ten years as the Officer of a Technical Rescue team that would be responsible for just such a rescue, let me offer another perspective to this ethical question. The Fire service much like many other organizations in recent history are governed by politics and litigation. The management of the organizations are always looking to the risk analysis of any potential situation based of the money that is available. The risk analysis is not based as much on the physical risk as it is on the financial or political risk. Long before this event took place a group of managers, lawyers and bean counters had a meeting and formed this policy based on the available funds that they would have to spend on training. Contrary to some assumptions that I have read here, this type of rescue requires specific training. As a former lifeguard wrote earlier, drowning victims have been known to drown their would be rescuers. In addition, suicide victims have a history of wanting to take rescuers with them. Suffice it to say that I do have real life experience in this area. But this is not the real issue that I want to address.

“Let’s say that I, as a supervisor, knowingly and with disregard for the established policy send one of my people into the water; or one of my personnel goes into the water without my knowledge. Lets also say that the rescuer, for whatever reason, looses their life in the water. In this situation, I as their supervisor know that I have not provided them the proper training to deal with the situation. Regardless of the outcome for the suicidal person, how do I, as a professional trained manager/supervisor defend my actions to the following people: my chief, the fire Chief, the mayor/county Executive, my surviving crew, the spouse or the children of the Firefighter, a judge. Does anyone believe the group I outlined above will meet again and decide that out of the goodness of their heart they will overlook my decision to disregard the policy that they put in place to protect themselves; when the widow sues the jurisdiction? Who answers to the widow when they are alone six months from now and the world has forgotten about the sacrifice?

“Raymond Zach made a decision to be in that water. We are a country of free will. The political process made a decision that the cost was to much for the risk that the Firefighters would actually need to be trained to make this rescue. Management made a decision that the risk was to great to allow a Firefighter to get into the water because they knew their personnel were not trained. That is why the policy was written.

“Heroism comes in many forms, and that title gets thrown around quite a bit, but sometimes the heroic decision is not apparent at first glance. I have no connection to the Firefighters that were there that day, but I will tell you that each one of them will live with the image of what happened that day. The Officers that were there that day will have to live with not only the death of the victim but also the guilt of what their crews think of their decision. Sometimes , as Officers, we need to be able to accept that we cannot control every situation; and we cannot save everyone. Particularly the ones that mean to do harm to themselves. What I can control is that no one else will die today. As Fire/Rescue Officers we have to make life or death decisions every day we go to work; sometimes that means limiting the number of people that die.

“Before you pass judgement on these Firefighters and public servants please remember that we generally only get one chance to be wrong. We try to manage when that wrong decision will come and avoid it. My family becomes the next victim if I go to jail for being negligent.”

One thought on “Comment of the Day: “The Death of Raymond Zack”

  1. Here,here! The average person,(California citizen) never takes in account the absolute policies for all civil service. The depth of the water to finally cover this person being 6ft. the distance he walked to be covered, for the average individual to assume all police or firefighter had jusisdiction to go out that far just proves the ignorance in masses who do not understand the politics it takes,the political adjustments needed for that type of (rescue) they were all expecting. No one wants to pay higher taxes that pays our services,but they all continue having these high expectation none of those complaining would ever try on their own to do. Unless they too have done the job,no appreciation,name calling,and out right rudeness when those civil servants are trying to follow the law,follow the political collars worn that are being yanked all the time by the same individuals complaining ,”WE want MORE”! More what exactly becomes the problem where there are no real answers……Just tail chasing.

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