Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

This coverage is made possible by a grant from The Saint Paul Foundation.

St. Paul Fire Captain Rick Zech gets city’s community involvement award

Capt. Rick Zech, a 29-year fire department veteran, receives the award, which is named for the late City Council Member Karl Neid.

Fire Capt. Rick Zech is a 29-year veteran of the department who has a lengthy list of community achievements and good works.
MinnPost file photo by Joe Kimball

For more than 20 years, the city of St. Paul has given the Karl Neid Award to a city employee who shows exceptional community involvement. 

And as the former St. Paul columnist for the Star Tribune, I used to regularly go along with the mayor and council president as they surprised the award recipient at work on a summer morning.

Although I haven’t reported on the award for a few years, today I must.

The winner this year is Fire Capt. Rick Zech, a 29-year veteran of the department who has a lengthy list of community achievements and good works.

Article continues after advertisement

And he’s my basketball officiating partner. (We referee middle-school games, boys and girls.)

Now that he’s famous, he’s not answering the phone this morning. Or, more likely, his fire rig on University Avenue has been out on a run.

Mayor Chris Coleman and City Council President Kathy Lantry had very nice things to say, after surprising him at Station 18 this morning.

Said Coleman:

“Rick’s unquestioned dedication to the City of Saint Paul and his community is remarkable. Through both his work for the city and his volunteer service, he has helped to build and strengthen our city. There is no better reflection of that than this award, given to Rick by his peers.”

And Lantry said:

“He truly embodies the spirit of the Karl Neid Award.”

The award is named for Neid, a city employee and city council member who died in 1992. The winner is selected by a committee, chaired by Lantry and made up of past Karl Neid Award winners, labor union representatives and City Council staff.

The city made this list of Zech’s community involvement:

Article continues after advertisement

  • Seven years ago, Rick formed a partnership with Jackson Elementary School, encouraging members of his crew to read to kindergarten classes on a weekly basis or as often as possible. As the years have passed, the school is now filled with students who know him and have benefited from his generosity.
  • Rick was the volunteer athletic director at St. Pius Church / School for 22 years, managing every facet of sports teams for hundreds of kids.
  • He has volunteered as a coach for boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball and football for more than 31 years.
  • Currently, he is volunteering as a referee in many of those same sports.
  • He has been a volunteer for the local Meals on Wheels program.
  • He has donated blood and plasma for more than 10 years.
  • Rick volunteers his time to honor fallen military men and women as a member of the Fort Snelling Rifle Squad.
  • He is currently in the application process to volunteer for the Big Brothers / Big Sisters program.
  • Annually, Rick has volunteered to brave the cold to ring the bell for the Salvation Army.

To this, I can only add:

  • He almost always makes the correct call on three-seconds-in-the-lane.