Illinois Firefighter Who Drove Engine Drunk Won't Face Criminal Charges

A Moline firefighter who was drunk and drove an engine to a fatal fire Wednesday morning likely will lose his job, but won't face criminal charges, police chief Steve Etheridge said.

The name of the firefighter, who was so intoxicated fellow firefighters pulled him aside and wouldn't let him fight the fire, is not being released .

``It was a decision I made at the time to charge him administratively and not criminally,'' Chief Etheridge said. ``There are no criminal charges at this point.''

However, Ald. Mike Crotty, 6th Ward, who learned of the incident along with other aldermen via e-mail from city administrator Dale Iman, said he's concerned about the chief's decision.

``If they were driving a vehicle, and they were over the legal limit, they should be charged,'' he said. ``They're no different than any other citizen. I question why the chief chose not to pursue criminal charges. I want to ask him why he made that decision. It seems to be a double standard.''

The administrative charges, filed Thursday afternoon, were operating a city vehicle while intoxicated, having alcohol at the fire station and not being available to answer a fire call.

The firefighter was relieved from duty the morning of the fire and his case will be heard by the police and fire commission, said Chief Etheridge, who also is acting fire chief. ``I will be requesting from the police and fire commission that he be dismissed.''

He said the firefighter had the alcohol in his personal vehicle at one of the outlying fire stations, and apparently was drinking late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning while other firefighters slept. The chief would not say which fire station he was assigned to.

Upon arrival at the fire at 220 16th Ave. about 2 a.m. Wednesday, other firefighters determined he was intoxicated, felt he was impaired and removed him from the scene, Chief Etheridge said.

``I arrived and the fire supervisor told me what happened,'' he said. ``I approached the individual and confirmed the fact he was under the influence.''

The firefighter was transported to the police station -- but not arrested -- and given a blood alcohol test that showed he was over the legal limit, the chief said, adding that it's against city regulations to possess or even bring alcohol into a fire station.

The intoxicated firefighter did not impair other firefighters' ability to battle the fire, which killed 62-year-old homeowner Bruce Noble and his dog, Chief Etheridge said.

``It didn't have any impact in fighting the fire. We had enough staff on scene to fight it,'' he said. ``It's an unfortunate incident. It happened, and we're going to deal with it internally. We take it very seriously.''

The chief praised supervisors on the scene for handling the situation and keeping the intoxicated firefighter from the structure.

International Association of Firefighters Local 581 president Ron Miller declined to comment. ``It's a personnel matter,'' he said. ``Everything will be handled by the chief's office.''