WATERLOO --- Beer in fire department coolers isn't uncommon, but neither are rules against alcohol on city property.
A sample of Northeast Iowa fire departments shows many firefighters do have access to alcoholic beverages after fire runs or during special events.
"It is a local issue that has to be dealt with locally," said Jim Saunders, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which includes the Iowa Fire Marshal's Office.
"This is not something that is regulated by the state," he said.
The issue raised a fiery debate this week in Hampton when the City Council considered banning alcohol on all city property except parks. The resolution is needed for liability purposes, City Attorney Mike Cross.
On Monday, Hampton Fire Chief Jeff Ferris resigned, saying drinking has never been an issue. On Tuesday, volunteer firefighters threatened to quit if council members approved the resolution. The council tabled the action.
Charles City Assistant Fire Chief Dave Boehmer remembers when former Mayor Bob Monroe issued a proclamation forbidding the use of alcohol.
Jerry Joerger, one of the few city officials who remembers when the ban went into effect, recalls only that a minor incident precipitated the prohibition.
Boehmer said the ban on alcohol "destroyed our fellowship." Prior to that, firefighters would retire to an upstairs room after monthly meetings to play cards and chat. Some of drank beer, a few opted for pop. But nearly everyone stayed, Boehmer said.
"It really drew the fire department together."
The Charles City Fire Department has eight full-time paid firefighters and more than 30 volunteers.
Boehmer, a paid firefighter since 1988 and a volunteer for several years before that, said the gatherings never got out of hand. Most people drank very little.
Fire department officials removed alcohol from the fire station at least eight years ago, and firefighter Jerry Hoffman said alcohol is not allowed in city buildings. Grundy Center was reportedly the first station in the county to empty its coolers.
"It's just good policy not to have it there," Hoffman said. "I realize that it may not hurt anything, but it just doesn't look good."
Firefighters are not to respond or go on calls if they have had more than two drinks. If a firefighter showed up anyway, they would be asked to go home.
"I don't have anything against having a beer or a drink, but there are other places to do that," Hoffman said.
Until about a year and a half ago, beer in the fridge wouldn't have been an uncommon sight at the Independence Fire Station, Capt. Kevin Peterson said.
But times have changed. Alcohol is perceived more negatively today, he said, and firefighters are now expectated to be more professional.
"We just decided it was time to get rid of it," Peterson said.
Nearby, Jesup follows similar guidelines. City Clerk Amber Youngblut said she doesn't believe a formal ordinance has been adopted, but alcohol is not allowed in city buildings.
There is alcohol at the station, said Fire Chief Kurt Angell, "but it is controlled --- locked in a refrigerated machine."
No drinking is allowed at department business meetings or training sessions.
"But there are times --- after everyone is back at the station and all the equipment is back in service --- some may have a beer," he said. "Usually while we are sitting around talking about what happened on the fire or emergency call."
Department policy holds any firefighter reporting to the station under the influence subject to disciplinary action, including suspension.
"That's why we have 30 firefighters, so if some are drinking we have others who can go out on the fire and emergency calls," Angell said.