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

The story about the Alameda firefighters and police, as well as many citizens, standing useless on the shore as a suicidal man slowly drowned continues to receive  outstanding commentary. Here is the most recent, from Peter, doing some follow-up and pointedly critical analysis: 

“ABC asked Alameda Fire Division Chief Ricci 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.”

“This quote essentially makes any indefensible defenses, or apologetics for how big and scary the victim was, moot. Perhaps they should make off-duty the new on-duty by assigning first responders to permanent off-duty roles. At least then they would go in after a drowning child.

“It is now clear that every officer or fireman on the scene works for a coward and can only save their honor by laying down their badges to people (perhaps the brave 20-year-old woman who fished the body out, who also had no formal training or certification) who are willing to follow through the task of risking and perhaps laying down their lives and future pensions on the job.

“Chief Zombeck has proven to be an ineffective and unremarkable leader and a disgrace to all of the men and women who never made it home from their shifts in the line of duty as cops and firefighters. I would advise the on-scene officers to follow the lead of their Fire Chief Ricci Zombeck in resigning, but he would never hand over his paychecks that easily.

“Perhaps they need to be paid less, because the military doesn’t have this problem of cowardice, and we start off making barely one-fifth of an Alameda fireman (adjusted for 2009 Military pay rates). Note the starting salary for a fireman on the scene is close to $80,000 (2009, as per link ). I’m glad I never had to serve with any of these heroes of public service.

“More than anything, it is a privilege to serve one’s community or country, but only if one is to do so honorably. Otherwise it is safe to assume you are just there to collect a paycheck.”

3 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “The Death of Ryamond Zack”

  1. Taken from another perspective, did Mr. Zack have an ethical duty to refrain from carrying out his suicide in such a public manner? Did he have a moral duty to choose something other than a kid-friendly setting on a holiday weekend where families were sure to be out doing family-style things. No doubt he was suffering, but was he entitled to inflict sufferring on a group of strangers?

    Setting aside the issue of whether the police and fire departments should have had a policy in place for water rescue (they should have), sure 70 some odd bystanders failed to render aid, but on the other hand, 70 plus people were psychically harmed the spectacle.

    • I think.criticizing a suicide for not committing ethical suicide is a little too harsh, even for me. Suicides by definition are irrational. Yes—if he jumped off a building and squashed someone, that’s unethical. But suicides often make public attempts as a cry for help. He just picked the wrong crowd. Boy, did he ever.

  2. I definitely don’t wish to sound harsh (or blame the victim), but I feel certain, based on an insider’s perspective, that there were other dynamics at play in this case. I think your hypothetical about jumping off a building and sqashing someone is a good starting point: is there is a bright, shiny line as to when an irrational personal decision to commit suicide is harmful to others, or are there some gray areas?

    I don’t know the case personally (and would not be able to comment on it, if I did), but what if Mr. Zack actually had an assigned case manager, psychiatrist, and public health nurse that he could call if he were feeling suicidal? Should he have called them first and set into motion the process of having the police or fire department safely transport him to the local psychiatric hospital before putting others in an untenable position?

    This is a vary sad case, but I think it is a mistake to see the victim as purely noble and every other party as squarely villianous, because it is always more complicated than that.

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