San Francisco Firefighters' Lawsuit Calls On-The-Job Drinking Problematic

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (AP) -- Claiming on-the-job drinking at firehouses is rampant, more than two dozen city firefighters have filed suit asking a judge to make their bosses crack down.

At issue in the lawsuit filed Thursday in San Francisco County Superior Court is Chief Joanne Hayes-White's decision last year to decide "on a case-by-case basis" whether the department should discipline firefighters for drug or alcohol use.

"How can you have a consistent substance abuse policy that is based on a case-by-case basis?" said Assistant Chief Christopher Stevenson, one of the plaintiffs.

He said the lack of a uniform policy is potentially unfair to firefighters.

The department has dealt with accusations of substance abuse for more than a year. Last June, a civil grand jury said the department "knows, or should know, it has a problem. Many (fire department) 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."

Dan Siegel, attorney for the firefighters, called on the department to implement random drug and alcohol testing and to test every firefighter involved in on-duty accidents.

Hayes-White called the lawsuit unnecessary, saying she relies on her staff to inform her of problems, not file lawsuits. She has the backing of Firefighters Union Local 798 and its boss, John Hanley.

"I am disturbed by what I am hearing," Hayes-White said. "There are a number of members of the department, more importantly officers, (who) would be obligated to report any allegations of conduct they observe."

Hayes-White said one rookie firefighter has been terminated and three firefighters disciplined for drug or alcohol use since she took over.

Two of nine assistant chiefs -- the fourth-highest rank in the department -- and seven battalion chiefs, the next rank down, are involved in the lawsuit.