Let’s Have a Drink and Toast All the Brothers and Sisters … Or Maybe Not

Drinking and the impact it has on the fire service and the community.

Dear Nozzlehead,

I’ll get right to it: One of our senior firefighters recently drove a pumper to a reported fire while boozed up. He was too toasted to get the engine into pump. Luckily, it was a minor run. Now, rather than take action on this firefighter specifically, our superiors decided to develop a zero-tolerance policy toward drinking. Well, sort of.

At a recent parade, another firefighter decided to load up a cooler full of beer and take it on the truck. Members drank the beer while in line with the marching bands, girl and boy scouts, and other groups. They looked like morons. After the parade, some of our firefighters then proceeded to the beer booth–in uniform. The apparatus got back to the firehouse with a hammered driver.

Because this issue was right after our superiors said “no booze,” they did take action and gave some of the firefighters suspensions.

My worry: What are they doing off duty if they can’t control drinking on duty? Is this unusual or common? I am embarrassed to ask around, but even with a policy in place, drinking still shows up like our trucks at a fire. Your thoughts?

– Nervous Down the Shore

Dear Nervous,

Just when I hope someone is going to write in about a fire tactics problem, SLICERS/DICERS, or INTER-GALACTIC TRANSITIONAL AGGRESSIVE REVERSE UNVENTED FORWARD FIRE ATTACK,* you send me some damn e-mail about booze in and around the firehouse. Wow, that’s new and refreshing.

Or maybe one of you will write in complaining that working eight to 10 days a month is too long and unfair. Whoa! Or you are required to attend monthly training at your volunteer fire department. Yeah–that’s BS!

Let me make this clear to you and anyone who wants to write about this in the future: Booze has no business in the firehouse, on a run, or inside those who go to fires. No excuse. No whiny crap about, “It’s just a little,” or “It keeps the firefighters here,” or (my favorite) “Would you rather them be drinking somewhere else?” Yep, I would.

I hold nothing against those who want to take a drink every once in a while. But stay far away from the firefighters and firehouse. If you even sip a drink, STAY AWAY. Don’t come to work. Go to rehab. Whatever it takes.

But what about volunteer fire departments? It keeps morale up, right? Sure, and so would a free weekly vacation, but that’s not how it works. Actually, a trip for members who make calls might actually be a retention and recruitment tool. I’ll conduct an evaluation and get back to you.

Booze in the firehouse does not improve morale. It doesn’t help recruitment and retention, and it is a disaster waiting to happen. Booze in the firehouse creates drunks in the firehouse. Get rid of it. Now!

Officers, if you see it, stop it, or you can count on being held responsible. If the person drinking is your superior, let another superior know. Even if you have to do it anonymously, let someone know. Doing so might save a life.

Think my advice is unreasonable? You are either a gutless clown in a fire officer’s suit or a person with a drinking problem. Why do I feel so strongly about this issue? Because I feel strongly about drunk firefighters riding in or driving apparatus and operating at fires. Why? Because I have personally seen it and been involved with the results for years. There is one solution: Stop it–no matter what. I’ve been there, done that, and seen the devastation.

I have a problem: What if a member comes to you admitting he has a problem? That’s a good thing. Treat him like he broke his arm and get him fixed through your employee assistance program (EAP). And he gets one chance. After that, it’s clear he doesn’t want to be a firefighter bad enough.

I know it’s tough, and it’s a disease. But this is the fire department. Wake up and understand that it’s all about trust here–trust between us and trust between us and the public. A firefighter with an untreated or untreatable drinking problem cannot be trusted.

What if a member gets a DUI while off duty? Contact your fire department’s attorneys and let them decide how to handle it based on your standard operating procedures. If it were up to me, that member would earn a trip to EAP and then, if it happened again, lose his job. But see what the legal folks say. You do not have to defend yourself in court; your attorneys do, so get them involved now. Have them work on policy development with you, because they must defend it.

What if a member is drunk on duty or, in the case of volunteers, responds while drunk? What does your policy state? It should state that he is terminated. Too rough? Unfair? Think about the consequences. We cannot allow too much room to breathe on this issue. We have rules, one of which says you must never be drunk, high, or anything like that while on duty. It should be very clear.

Why? Seriously? You are asking me why?

Take whoever you say “I love you” to at night. OK, got it so far? Good. Now have them drive their car and allow the drunken firefighter to drive the apparatus coming the other way or in the upcoming intersection. That’s your “why.”

Are you thinking that I have some hard, nasty history with drinking booze? No, I don’t personally, but I knew (and have dealt with) many who did, and they are no longer around. Additionally, I know victims who were killed by drunks. So if we get all pissed off on a run when there is a “stupid drunk” involved, then why do we work so hard to hide it and sometimes allow it in the fire department? Because it’s all about brotherhood and sisterhood (high fives here). Well, to that I respond: “BMA” –Brotherhood My Ass.

It’s time to make it clear that there will be no booze or members who are “even just a little” intoxicated in the firehouse, on the rigs, or on the scene. Got a member with a problem? Fix it now. Get him into an EAP. Get him into Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar program, but get him before he gets someone else.

Why is this issue so hard to deal with? Because drinking is an addictive, societal problem. But that’s no excuse.

*Just put water on the fire, please.

No posts to display