July 20, 2011

NOTE THAT THEY’RE UNIONIZED: The Alameda incident: ‘First responders’ who don’t.

On Memorial Day, a suicidal man waded into San Francisco Bay outside the city of Alameda and stood there for about an hour, neck deep in chilly water, as about 75 bystanders watched. Local police and firefighters were dispatched to the scene after the man’s desperate mother called 911, but they refused to help. After the man drowned, the assembled “first responders” also refused to wade into the water to retrieve his body; they left that job for a bystander.

The incident sparked widespread outrage in Northern California, and the response by the Fire Department and police only intensified the anger. The firefighters blamed local budget cuts for denying them the training and equipment necessary for cold-water rescues. The police said that they didn’t know if the man was dangerous and therefore couldn’t risk the safety of officers. . . . 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.”

If you stand a better chance of being rescued by the official rescuers when they are off duty, then what is the purpose of these departments, which consume the lion’s share of city budgets and whose employees — in California anyway — receive exceedingly handsome salaries?

Widespread outrage is appropriate. And, you know, so are big budget cuts, so they’ll be off duty more . . .

UPDATE: A reader responds with this correction on the “first responders” bit:

(0th) Victim. Also sometimes has a later role.
(1st) Responder. Responds to victim’s need for help (which may not be actually requested by the victim.)
(2nd) Responder. Responds to 1st responders call for assistance. These days, a 911 operator.
(3rd) Responder. Dispatcher.
(4th) Responder. Driver.
(5th) EMT

And that’s if it works like it should.

Good point.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Tom Wheatley emails from China:

During my time working at summer camps, I personally witnessed counselors executing what would legally be considered lifesaving rescues of campers who were swimming and found themselves in distress. If 19-year-old college kids can do this at a private summer camp, surely union firefighters, with the full backing of the resources of the state of Califorina, can do the same. I don’t know whether to describe this situation as tragic or pathetic. It’s probably some combination of the two.

It’s garbage like this that prompts me to support the tea party. It is abundantly clear that the vast majority of government employees are completely useless, and no one would notice if they were relieved of their modest duties immediately.

I fear this summer is just a warmup. Next summer is going to be very, very ugly. I’m glad I live abroad.

Perhaps I should plan an extended trip. Though I’m not sure next summer in China will be any picnic, either.