The number of New York City firefighters and emergency medical service workers being treated for alcohol and drug abuse this year is more than 50 percent higher than it was last year, the Fire Department said yesterday.Between Jan. 1 and March 12, the department's counseling unit handled 102 cases of alcohol and drug abuse, Malachy Corrigan, the unit's director said. During the same period last year, it handled 63 cases.*

"This year, we're treating more cases of substance abuse in any two-month period since Sept. 11 or during any two-month period in my career with the Fire Department," said Mr. Corrigan, a 22-year department veteran.In addition, he said, the department opened 31 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder during the same period this year. As the department classifies cases according to a client's primary diagnosis, those cases are not included in the alcohol or drug treatment figures.That means that in addition to the drug and alcohol cases, a number of people whose primary diagnosis is post-traumatic stress disorder are also being treated for drug and alcohol problems. And, firefighters say, some colleagues are seeking treatment outside of the department - in some cases, out of fear of reporting their problems to a department unit. The counseling unit has treated almost half the firefighters and E.M.S. workers in a work force of 14,000. The sudden rise in firefighters seeking treatment in substance abuse - as well as treatment for other conditions - could result from delayed reaction to Sept. 11, Mr. Corrigan said. The counseling unit of the Fire Department has seen an increase in every diagnostic category since Jan. 1, Mr. Corrigan said. After Sept. 11, the department's caseload went from an annual average of 600 cases over all to 3,600. Most of those cases are for anxiety and bereavement after the terrorist attack, Mr. Corrigan said. The alcohol and drug treatment cases represent 4 percent of the counseling unit's total caseload. The increase in treatment for substance abuse coincides with a rash of embarrassing incidents involving firefighters drinking while on duty.In one, a Staten Island firefighter smashed a colleague's face with a chair on New Year's Eve, critically injuring him. A captain of that firehouse later admitted that he had allowed firefighters to drink beer that afternoon after fighting a fire. In February, a lieutenant and a captain assigned to an inspection unit were found drinking in a Manhattan karaoke bar while on duty. And a firefighter who crashed his fire engine into another as he raced to a fire on Feb. 21 was high on cocaine at the time of the crash, the department said. "Clearly with the events that have taken place, there's a greater need to take a look at substance abuse in the Fire Department," said Capt. Peter Gorman of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.The increase also coincides with news, reported Thursday night on WNBC-TV, that Cornell University researchers have found a risk of alcoholism among New York City firefighters that is twice the national workplace average. The study, which is being done for the two unions that represent firefighters and officers, has not yet been released, and a researcher on the study, William J. Sonnenstuhl, said it was premature to comment on the study since the data was still being analyzed.Nicholas Scoppetta, the Fire Department commissioner, said he had invited the leaders of the two fire unions to meet with him on Monday to discuss the study and possible courses of action. Although he could not comment on New York City firefighters in particular - and what effect Sept. 11 has had on their substance abuse - Professor Sonnenstuhl said that past studies had shown that workers in dangerous professions, like construction workers, railroad engineers and firefighters, frequently had higher rates of alcoholism.Before Sept. 11, the department's counseling unit typically treated 180 cases of alcoholism annually, Mr. Corrigan said. After Sept. 11, that number remained roughly the same - until this year, that is. Mr. Corrigan said it is possible that the sudden increase in firefighters seeking substance abuse treatment could be a delayed reaction to Sept. 11. Indeed, among the cases of post-traumatic stress disorder that the counseling unit has treated, almost all of them have shown a delayed onset of symptoms.From Sept. 11, 2001, through June 30, 2002, counselors treated only three cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, Mr. Corrigan said. Mr. Corrigan said he believed that having the chance to work at the World Trade Center site in the months after the attack gave many rescuers a sense of mission and delayed any onset of traumatic symptoms. In July 2002, after the site was closed, 15 more firefighters and E.M.S. workers sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Mr. Corrigan, who said he was a practitioner and not a researcher, said he could not draw any direct correlation between Sept. 11 and the sudden increase in cases of substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. But he said that the counseling unit had assembled a team of researchers from around the country who planned to analyze the department's data.Drinking, which was only banned from city firehouses 35 years ago, was not uncommon in the Fire Department, retired firefighters said. Recent reports of cocaine use by firefighters have surprised some department veterans. But mental health experts say that it is the nature of substance abuse among younger generations that they are likely to use drugs as well as alcohol, after recreational drug use became more acceptable in recent decades. One commander in an elite unit that suffered heavy losses on Sept. 11 said while he had not seen drinking or drug abuse among his firefighters, there had been more risky behavior, including the number of risks they were willing to take while working, which is recognized as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder