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The Wyoming tragedy may be unusual, but it illustrates that there still are problems, both within the fire service and in the community that we serve. Last year, more than 17,000 people died in alcohol-related traffic crashes. That number has been increasing for the past three years. An important recent study by the National Academy of Sciences documented that there still is a serious problem with underage alcohol consumption. We still haven't found effective ways to deal with hard-core drinking drivers and others with serious alcohol problems. The driver in the Wyoming crash, who had lost his license and been jailed and fined for a previous drunk driving offense, appears to fall into this category.
We in the fire service see the tragic consequences of alcohol involvement in traffic crashes, violence and other injuries and illnesses every day. We should be leading the charge for improved drunk driving laws, workplace alcohol use policies, and prevention and treatment programs.
But the fire service must first make sure that its own house is in order before seeking to change others. It's not enough merely to have departmental policies against alcohol abuse. They must be accepted at all levels, and made a part of the department's inherent culture. We can no longer allow so-called "innocent" drinking to be mixed with any fire department activities. The new IAFC policy statement should be a call for each of us to reconsider our attitudes and the practices of our department.