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Former Firefighter Questions if Ruben Grijalva Can Give an Honest Report on Raymond Zack Death

When Andrew Jentzsch learned that Ruben Grijalva would be investigating the death of Raymond Zack on Crown Beach on May 30th, he thought, “What did I do to deserve this?” Mr. Jentzsch was a firefighter for twenty years with the City of Palo Alto, which included the eight years that Grijalva was the Fire Chief.

A self-described whistle-blower, Jentzsch has been locked in a long-running battle with the City of Palo Alto and its officials. He’s also been following the Zack case, and wanted to give his perspective on Mr. Grijalva’s assignment to report on the Zack death.

Jentzsch resigned from the City of Palo Alto fire department in 2003. He says his problems with Palo Alto started with a dispute over workers compensations benefits for a shoulder injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Jentzsch told Action Alameda News that at the time he resigned, he was suicidal. He tried to rescind his resignation, but the City of Palo Alto wouldn’t let him.

During his tenure with the City of Palo Alto, Jentzsch tried to raise and publicize concerns about mismanagement and waste in the fire department, including under Grijalva. He also cites a work-climate survey of the Palo Alto fire department under Grijalva, which gave poor reviews of the department’s leadership. Colleagues told him, Jentzsch said, to simply collect his pay every two weeks, and keep quiet, because, eventually, Grijalva would be gone. “I told them, ‘It’s not right’, ” Jentzsch recalled in a meeting with Action Alameda News, as an explanation for why he persisted.

Even in 2009, after he had resigned, Jentzsch’s name shows up in the minutes of a City of Palo Alto council meeting as someone who “spoke regarding the Fire Department budget.” Jentzsch’s comments populate news websites and blogs across California, with allegations against Grijalva in not only his role as City of Palo Alto Fire Chief, but also in his role as the Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) which Girjalva held from 2006 to 2009. (As Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger named Grijalva State Fire Marshal in August of 2004, and CAL FIRE director in April of 2006.)

Jentzsch’s comments have gotten him into deeper trouble – earlier this year, he was arrested for allegedly making criminal threats against Palo Alto police Chief Dennis Burns, based on comments posted to Palo Alto Online. On the advice of his public defender attorney, Jentzsch pleaded no-contest. However, he told Action Action Alameda News that he later learned that his public defender has personal connections to Chief Burns that were not disclosed to him. “He told me it was a no-brainer to plead it out,” Jentzsch said, “there was never any talk of mounting an actual defense.” Jentzsch has since hired a separate lawyer to review the case and attempt to reverse the no-contest plea on the basis of the dubious advice he received from the public defender.

Nonetheless, Jentzsch remains unbowed. He brought to a meeting with this reporter a stack of documents and newspaper articles that he says backs up his story, and paints Grijalva as unfit to publish a report on an investigation of the Raymond Zack death.

One document he provided to Action Alameda News is a copy of an un-dated letter from early 1998 that alleges that on February 3rd, 1998, Ruben Grijalva, as City of Palo Alto Fire Chief, called off-duty firefighters to work overtime to put up sandbags to protect then-Palo Alto City Manager June Flemming’s house during a flood. The firefighters were allegedly told to report in civilian clothes in private vehicles to give no indication that they worked for the City of Palo Alto. Jentzsch says that despite accusations, he is not the author of the letter.

The Palo Alto weekly covered the story at the time. Both the letter, and Jentzsch, accuse Grijalva of making hiring and promotion decisions based not on merit, but on loyalty (to Grijalva) and personal favors, in spite of qualifications. The excerpts from the Palo Alto Fire Department work-climate survey document that Jentzsch provided to Action Alameda News include the anonymous responses, “Do not hire personal friends unless extremely qualified. Promote only the best,” and “Eliminate favoritism!”

Jentzsch also points to a report produced by Grijalva, as Cal Fire director, on events in late 2007, when wildfires raged in Southern California. A San Diego Union Tribune article opens with, “Cal Fire’s analysis of air operations during last month’s firestorms lacks the critical details it was supposed to provide, leaving officials with an incomplete look at what went wrong as they try to prepare for the next disaster.”

According to press reports at the time, some two-dozen water-dropping military aircraft sat idle while wildfires burned in Southern California in October of 2007. Jentzsch points to the news stories that uncovered reasons – insufficient staffing, tactical issues – that the helicopters sat grounded but which the Cal Fire report didn’t include, or fully illuminate. “Ruben will not give a fair judgment, he’s so political,” said Jentzsch.

Jentzsch was also a paramedic for twelve years, overlapping with his time at the Palo Alto Fire Department. He believes that Alameda firefighters could have done more to save Raymond Zack, whether it meant standing in the water some distance off from Zack but close enough to catch him and prevent him from drowning after he collapsed from the early stages of hypothermia, or more vigorous resuscitation attempts after the Good Samaritan pulled Zack out of the water and up on to shore. However, Jentzsch said, “There are more firefighters who want more money, and more money, and want to walk around as America’s heroes. They don’t care about the public.”

Asked why he came forward with information about Grijalva, Jentzsch said, “Because what happened is not right.”

9 comments to Former Firefighter Questions if Ruben Grijalva Can Give an Honest Report on Raymond Zack Death

  • 94502

    Action Alameda is the only source for information countering the spin out of city hall and the Alameda Fire Department. Thank you for getting this out to the public

    We, the public, deserve public servants who have the public in mind, not their own paychecks.

    Keep digging, Action Alameda. There is a lot of dirt covering a lot of facts. The facts must come to light.

  • Barb

    The CITY does not WANT a real report that will document the inadequacies of both FIRE and POLICE. Grijalva is the perfect candidate. For $20-k he will write a report that reports some minor errors were committed, that the basis for those errors is no longer there, and those responsible are now gone.

    Who needs to document the multitude of errors and blame shifting that Fire and Police have engaged in, instead of saving ZACK? Any human being who is not an Alameda Police or Firefighter was horrified by the highly paid incompetence. We don’t need to pay someone to shift the blame. Apparently Alameda has so much money that the Council can pay for a “dummy” report. The Council can then rely on their “dummy” report to say they cured the problem. The truth is it happened on their watch. They are responsible. The buck stops there.
    GILMORE TAM and BONTA were too busy drinking and partying with the firefighters, to actually see that the firefighters were doing what they were paid to do: 10 Water Rescues per year. What a circus!

  • The whole issue can be summed up from watching “independent” new City Manager John Russo waving from a fire truck during the 4th of July Parade yesterday and listening to the silence of the crowds replacing the unbridled cheers of years past as the fire fighters drove by.

  • […] Grijalva was the person responsible for the lack of organization (insufficient staffing, tactical issues), the “bureaucratic condition established by the state”.  That failure was the pinnacle of his career. […]

  • hobnob

    although I don’t always agree with this website, I do thank you for digging into Grijalva and I do believe that the city needs to do more.

    It is disgusting how they are handling this investigation… I thought we were avoiding the problems of San Francisco, but it seems we’re emulating their city gov’t disfunctions just as much. Shape up Alameda, none of us want to be another Vallejo!

  • Maria

    Yup, Grijalva is the perfect guy to give the council and AFD exactly what they are after, a complete whitewash, or as Barb puts it, a “dummy” report. It’s no surprise that Grijalva was selected and that he has his hand out. This won’t be reported in our local fish wraps.

  • Liz Williams

    It’s time to stop pretending that Alameda is exempt from political corruption. I’m glad to read that the firefighters did not get cheered and that Russo was stupid enough to ride on a fire truck in the parade. I hope someone got pictures, and can send them to me (hint, hint).

    Now the question is what to do about this. Do we recall the 3 minions? Do we try to get rid of Russo who, as far as I know, has never been a city manager, yet was given a 5-year contract by our city council.

    I’m so grateful for this website which is both syncophant and claquer-free. But I want more from Alamedans – I want action. It is well past time for a recall. Who is willing to work on that?

  • Betty

    I am with you Liz. I think if Alameda is chosen for the Lawrence Hall expansion we may have a chance to survive, otherwise we are down the tubes. I can’t believe how corrupt our city government is….
    If we don’t get rid of the 3 stooges who knows what’s in store over the next 3 years.
    Can we survive with the hope they won’t get re elected?

  • acreccsucks

    So they hire a guy who is on a first name basis with most of the local fire chiefs AND the Fire Dispatch Center Manager? Don’t forget Fire Dispatch’s role in all this. They contributed to Mr. Zack’s death and it’s not the first time Alameda COUNTY Fire Dispatch has contributed to field kills.
    Sure, that’s going to be a fair, unbiased and objective investigation. Yeah right.