Fire Dept. sued over alcohol usage
Firefighters, officers want action to stem 'notorious' abuse
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005
A group of 28 San Francisco firefighters sued the Fire Department on Thursday, complaining that on-the-job drinking was "frequent, open and notorious" and asking a judge to force department bosses to do something about it.
"We're here to announce nothing less than an effort to change the culture of the San Francisco Fire Department,'' said Dan Siegel, attorney for the firefighters.
Two of Chief Joanne Hayes-White's nine assistant chiefs -- the fourth- highest rank in the department -- and seven battalion chiefs, the next rank down, were among those filing suit in San Francisco Superior Court.
The chief called the lawsuit unnecessary and perplexing, saying she relied on her staff to inform her of problems, not file lawsuits.
"I am disturbed by what I am hearing,'' she said of the suit. "There are a number of members of the department, more importantly officers, (who) would be obligated to report any allegations of conduct they observe.''
Siegel called drinking in the firehouses "an open and dirty secret'' and said the plaintiffs want the department to heed the "zero tolerance'' policy toward drinking and drug use that Hayes-White's predecessor as chief, Mario Trevino, spelled out in 2003.
Siegel called on the department to implement random drug and alcohol testing and to test every firefighter involved in accidents on duty.
One of the main issues in the suit is Hayes-White's decision last year to decide "on a case-by-case basis" whether the department should discipline firefighters for drinking or using drugs.
Assistant Chief Christopher Stevenson, one of the plaintiffs, said the lack of a uniform policy made no sense and was potentially unfair to firefighters. Either every firefighter should be given an option to enter a treatment program on first offense, he said, or everyone who uses alcohol or drugs should be fired.
"How can you have a consistent substance abuse policy that is based on a case-by-case basis?" asked Stevenson, who supervises half the city's fire crews when he is on his 24-hour shift. "Just like all discipline, it should be transparent -- one size fits all, whether it's diversion or 'see you later.' ''
Hayes-White said any allegation of firefighter drinking or drug use she had learned of since becoming chief had been acted upon. One rookie firefighter has been terminated, she said, and three firefighters have been disciplined for drug or alcohol use on her watch.
"Four in my 14 months is more than several years of previous administrations,'' she said.
Allegations of substance abuse have dogged the department for more than a year. In June, the civil grand jury said the department "knows, or should know, it has a problem. Many SFFD personnel interviewed have witnessed on-duty drinking and other types of substance abuse. Many in the rank and file know the stations and officers that tolerate on-duty drinking."
In November 2003, firefighter Kristen Odlaug filed a sexual harassment claim against the city in which she said high-ranking officers looked the other way as firefighters got drunk. She has since sued the city.
The grand jury said Hayes-White's policy of reviewing drinking and drug allegations on a case-by-case basis created a potential for favoritism. It said the department should have a range of options for discipline and a clear statement of what conduct would trigger such discipline.
It also said the department should conduct random testing as soon as possible.
The firefighters who sued Thursday said heeding the grand jury recommendations would be a good start.
"We've yet to see random drug testing implemented -- that disturbs me personally,'' said John Darmanin, a fire inspector. He noted that the department had negotiated the right four years ago to test firefighters after accidents, and that "to date, not a single firefighter has been tested. That's shameful.''
Kevin Smith, head of the San Francisco Black Firefighters Association, said case-by-case punishments carried the potential for discrimination along racial or gender lines. "That's a concern of all the members here," he said.
His group joined the 28 firefighters in filing suit, along with four residents of San Francisco and a frequent visitor to the city.
On the chief's side is the Firefighters Union Local 798 and its boss, John Hanley.
"The union feels the chief is doing a very good job," Hanley said. "She has done what she said she would do.''
Hanley said that fireboat crews had been tested at random for alcohol and drugs but that nothing had been implemented throughout the department. "The cost is the big factor, to tell you the truth,'' he said.
Hayes-White said the union and the department were negotiating over what testing can be conducted and under what circumstances. Marijuana testing appears to be a sticking point.
"I may have been overly ambitious in assuming we could have a policy (on random drug testing) in place at the end of last year,'' she said. "We have made progress.''
Hayes-White said testing after every accident would be impractical. She said crashes involving Fire Department vehicles had dropped 17 percent since she ordered a crackdown on speeding and other violations.
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03-18-2005, 11:08 AM #1
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- Nov 2001
San Francisco Fire Department Sued by Firefighters Over Alcohol Usage
03-18-2005, 11:13 AM #2
- Join Date
- Dec 2003
While I'm not sure a lawsuit was the ideal way to go about this, I absolutely applaud the efforts of those willing to take a stand and correct a very dangerous situation.
03-18-2005, 11:35 AM #3
We're here to announce nothing less than an effort to change the culture of the San Francisco Fire Department,'' said Dan Siegel, attorney for the firefighters.
- Join Date
- Nov 2001
03-18-2005, 12:34 PM #4Two of Chief Joanne Hayes-White's nine assistant chiefs -- the fourth- highest rank in the department -- and seven battalion chiefs, the next rank down, were among those filing suit in San Francisco Superior Court.
I feel the Chief of the Dept is right in what she says, that she relies on her Senior Managers, as these people are,to identify problems and provide solutions to those problems, not run to a judge and ask one of them to solve the puzzle.
If they were officers worthy of the position, there would have been a policy in place to deal with the alleged drinking on duty and its after effects, long before anyone thought of running to the legal system to provide one. (Or is this maybe a case of trying to expose the supposed failings of the Chief rather than the drinking...?United Kingdom branch, IACOJ.
03-18-2005, 12:36 PM #5
Re: San Francisco Fire Department Sued by Firefighters Over Alcohol UsageOriginally posted by superchef
.....Hayes-White said testing after every accident would be impractical. She said crashes involving Fire Department vehicles had dropped 17 percent since she ordered a crackdown on speeding and other violations.
03-18-2005, 01:31 PM #6Marijuana testing appears to be a sticking point.
Last time I checked, marijuana is illegal in this country. Why is this even an issue?Fire Marshal/Safety Officer
"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government"
Success is when skill meets opportunity
Failure is when fantasy meets reality
03-18-2005, 02:42 PM #7
I am going to keep my comments short one this one.
#1. A lawsuit isnt going to fix it.
#2. Just a policy change in a large ultra traditional
department like this may not do the trick.
03-18-2005, 03:32 PM #8
U should know Boouuu
Boou you should knoow since you work in that exact area.Front line since 1983 and still going strong
03-19-2005, 12:25 AM #9
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- San Francisco, California
aye ya yi
geez...why would ya wanna drink at the firehouse anyways?? there are people out there (like me) that would give anything to work as a san francisco fire fighter...couldnt imagine drinkin or smokin pot while on duty...geez*~Fareen the Green Queen~*
live life to the fullest cuz u dont know whats gonna happen tomorrow
"Thanks for the joy you've given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
And rhythm, and rhyme, and harmony
You helped me along, you're makin' me strong...Give me the beat boys and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and DRIFT AWAY" Uncle Kracker/Dobie Gray
AIM SN: greensfflame27
01-02-2009, 07:33 AM #10
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- Jan 2009
Attacks on firefighters rising, says union Firefighters are being subjected to an increasing number of violent attacks despite Government claims to the contrary, new figures show.
This issue has some meaning....
Drug Intervention South Dakota
01-02-2009, 07:38 AM #11
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- Jan 2009
nice.. topic I ever see
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