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A Firable Offense

There was a bit of a stir in old Beantown last week. Back in August, a fire in a restaurant killed two firefighters. Last week, details of the autopsies were leaked to the press -- and it turns out that one of the men was legally drunk at the time of death, while the other had traces of cocaine and marijuana in his system.

The union is demanding a criminal investigation into the leak, and even got a judge to briefly stop a TV station from airing the reports.

This story brings up a whole host of issues. First up is the whole issue of prior restraint, and I think the judge was utterly wrong in stopping the report from airing. Such actions should be very, very rare, and for very, very extenuating circumstances -- and "saving the families more pain and embarrassment" are vastly outweighed by the public good served.

And just what is the public good being served here? Well, for starters, I don't think that the traces of drugs should have been released. I don't care for drug testing as a general rule, and as long as it doesn't affect one's work, it should not be the business of the employer -- any employer -- what the employee does off the clock.

But the firefighter who was apparently legally intoxicated (the toxicology screening indicated he had a blood alcohol level of .27, more than three times the legal limit for driving) while fighting the fire... that's another story. This guy was so hammered that he should have been falling-down drunk, yet his colleagues either didn't notice or chose not to notice that fact and let him go into that fire anyway.

Firefighters, like police officers, are charged with protecting the public safety. They are accorded great respect and trust -- and this is a betrayal of that trust.

We need to know that we can trust these men and women. We need to know that when we call 911, we won't be summoning people drunk off their asses.

And the firefighters' union would be better advised to put their energies not into this witch-hunt and trying to pull the curtain back across their member's misdeeds, but instead on making damned sure that this never happens again. The leak merely wounded their pride -- the circumstances that motivated the leak killed two of their brothers.

Humiliation and shame are seldom fatal. Drunk and inside a burning building (or even just drunk and behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle) quite often are.


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Comments (14)

Ah, direct that stream at t... (Below threshold)

Ah, direct that stream at the nexus of impairment and disability.

This is really crazy. Even ... (Below threshold)
scrapiron Author Profile Page:

This is really crazy. Even the small rural Volunteer Fire Department I belong to has rules on drinking and drugs. Simple rules, come on Fire Department property after using even a small amount (one drink) and go home for 90 days. Do it again and stay home forever. No questions and no arguments. The unions and fire departments have built themselves a kingdom and most are now worthless.

Jay, seems to me that your ... (Below threshold)

Jay, seems to me that your prior restraint argument would have to apply to all of the info, not just the alcohol.

Jay, I have to disagree wit... (Below threshold)

Jay, I have to disagree with you on the drug issue. I do not believe that it's ok for a public servant (I am a public servant as well) to use ILLEGAL drugs on or off the clock. The P.C. term has become "recreational drugs", and they are not recreational. They are dangerous, and they are illegal.

You and I both agree on the fact that illegal aliens do not have rights in our country. I would like to argue with you that illegal drugs do not belong in my country - but since they are here, I'd like to argue that they don't belong in the body of a person who has sworn to serve and/or protect.

I'm sure I will not win any popularity contests with this argument, but that's ok.

I'll second scrapiron's com... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

I'll second scrapiron's comment above; absolutely zero tolerance in our small fire district for any use of alcohol or similar substances whilst on the job.
But one must consider that this was in Massachusetts and perhaps Teddy Kennedy (D-Chivas) had something to do with writing their rulebook.

Maybe the union thought som... (Below threshold)
John F Not Kerry:

Maybe the union thought something like this getting out would hurt their future negotiating position. That seems to be what most unions think about nowadays.

Aren't autopsies public inf... (Below threshold)

Aren't autopsies public information?

OK, kim, read the link befo... (Below threshold)

OK, kim, read the link before running your mouth. Autopsies are not public record in Massachusetts. Well, they had oughta be.

OK, OK, OK. When an autops... (Below threshold)

OK, OK, OK. When an autopsy is required by law, the results should be public record. I don't know the facts of this case, whether the autopsy was required, however, I suspect it was.

This example is precisely the reason that required autopsies are public record. Does anyone seriously want to make the argument that they shouldnt be?

Amazing how liberals love l... (Below threshold)

Amazing how liberals love leaks of confidential information to the press, but when it's one of their own special interest groups, it's an all out war against 'freedom of the press'.

Riehl World View is all ove... (Below threshold)

Riehl World View is all over some Democratic Congresswoman demanding that the cameras be turned off before talking with a reporter, then assaulting the reporter when she refused.

This happened in your house, folks. The Halls of Congress.

Yep, they're illegal for a ... (Below threshold)

Yep, they're illegal for a reason, and having trace amounts means more than you broke the law. It means you are impaired, whether its politically correct or not to acknowledge it.

Impaired public servants dying on the job, that sounds like a public's right to know to me.

While I'm not going to get ... (Below threshold)

While I'm not going to get all worked up about anyone doing illegal drugs or drinking, I do take issue with a public servant who chooses a profession which demands a certain standard and then casually disregards that standard. In this case, it's abstaining from taking drugs which impairs one's judgment and motor control. If they do choose to do "recreational" drugs which are a) against the law and b) impair their abilities to do their job optimally, they've already demonstrated poor judgment by endangering their position and career and have possibly put others (besides themselves) in unnecessary danger. What's to say they won't take that poor judgment one step further and do it on the job? Or abuse it on their "own time" to a degree that it flows over into "not their time".

And drinking. Drinking until your drunk is taking it too far. I don't mean drinking until your silly, or happy. I mean drinking until you have a bad hangover and then go to work. Are you at your best when you're hungover? Could you pull a baby from a burning building if you had just been throwing-up-drunk a few hours ago?

No. This is more than just trying to dictate people's personal lives. This is "a matter of lives." And if this isn't just an aberration - if it's more common - the public should know.

I gave this more thought la... (Below threshold)

I gave this more thought last night, and here's my biggest issue: if ever we have to call for emergency services, and at some point we all do, we are already in a crisis. The house is burning, or someone is in cardiac arrest, etc....

The very last thing a person in crisis needs is emergency personnel to show up UNABLE TO HELP STOP THE CRISIS! We pay our taxes - we follow the rules and laws of the land. It seems to me that this is something we should all be able to expect without question.

Reminds me of watching "Backdraft".... it bummed me out so much that it was the fireman in charge who was starting the fires.






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