Alcohol at Fire Stations Under Scrutiny

Inside the Story
Fire Marshal: Ban Alcohol in Fire Stations
History: Firefighter Charged with Homicide by Vehicle Had DUI
The Victim: Teen Lived Life to Its Fullest
Publisher Commentary: Charges That Hurt: Alcohol & The Fire Service
Goldfeder: What Can I Do?
Charges: Read the State Statutes
Download: Sample Fire Department Alcohol & Drug Policy
First Report: Fire Truck Driver Charged with DUI: Teen Firefighter Killed
Discuss: The Incident & Charges
Drill: How is Your Public Image?
Forums: Condolences for Huber
Web Link: Newcastle VFD

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Cody, Wyoming Volunteers Balk At Firehouse Alcohol Ban
Wyoming Tragedy Raises Spotlight on Firehouses and Alcohol
Idaho Fire Chiefs Say Alcohol Is Not A Problem ... Wyoming Death
Wyoming Fire Dept Against Firehouse Alcohol Ban

Some fire chiefs say the alcohol is an important tool for recruitment and builds camaraderie, but policies that allow the consumption of beer and alcohol at fire stations are increasingly under scrutiny.

Wyoming's governor wants to put an end to the drinking after two state firefighters were charged in separate drunk driving incidents, including one that killed a 16-year-old passenger _ who was a volunteer firefighter.

``What is the rationale for having alcohol in a fire hall?'' Gov. Dave Freudenthal asked. He has joined state Fire Marshal Jim Narva in asking fire departments to voluntarily dump their alcohol policies before the matter is taken to the state Legislature.

In the northwestern Wyoming city of Thermopolis, Fire Chief Mark Collins pleaded guilty to driving to a blaze in his personal vehicle while under the influence on July 9. He was ordered to pay $100 to the crime victim's fund.

He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of being an intoxicated pedestrian on a public highway and ordered to pay $30 in court costs. A fine of $200 was suspended and will only be paid if he violates probation, which includes a ban on alcohol consumption and breaking any other law.

And in northeast Wyoming, the Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department voted to remove alcohol after 16-year-old volunteer Anndee Huber was killed May 22. Firefighter Ronald Caillier pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide.

According to court documents, Caillier drank five 20-ounce beers in an hour and a half at a bar. The tanker he later drove crashed while headed to a grass fire south of Newcastle. The truck rolled and Huber was ejected and crushed.

Jeff Morrissette, state fire administrator for Connecticut, said Huber's death has prompted a debate in his state over whether alcohol should be banned from fire houses.

``That specific incident probably had worldwide repercussions,'' he said. ``It really made people take a step back and see what they were doing at a local level.''

Indeed, firehouse alcohol is not just a Wyoming issue.

In Delaware, a firefighter has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his volunteer company retaliated against him after he attempted to stop underage drinking at a firehouse party.

Earlier this year in Indiana, a fire chief was charged with drunken driving after a fire truck crash that injured a colleague. Last year in New Jersey, a fire chief was convicted of DUI after crashing his department vehicle while answering a call.

Back in Wyoming, Riverton's Chief Drake said the two DUI incidents this year unfairly tarnished the reputations of volunteer firefighters. ``Half my department doesn't even drink,'' he said of his 49-member force.

In Torrington, a southeast Wyoming farming community of 5,800 people, the 27-member volunteer department has a strict policy against answering a call after drinking.

Although Torrington fire officials are reviewing whether their bar should go, the fire chief there, Dennis Estes, noted that in both of the state's DUI cases, the alleged drinking occurred away from the fire halls.

Hank Coe, a firefighter for 23 years and former Cody fire chief as well as a state senator, said alcohol is only brought out for social occasions, then strictly controlled.

``These two incidences _ though very, very sad cases _ are still very isolated cases,'' he said. ``It's just a very, very small part of what goes on out there.''

Coe and Drake agreed that a ban on alcohol would hurt morale, something Riverton Fire Chief Bruce Drake echoed: ``When you risk your life for somebody every day, you need to have an association, a bond with them,'' he said.

Reed Bush, Arlington, Va.-based co-author of the National Volunteer Fire Council report on recruitment and retention, said there is nothing wrong with having a social hall. But while camaraderie is very important, ``safety takes priority over anything,'' he said.

Rather than sharing drinks, Bush suggests bowling nights or going to professional baseball games and picnics instead.

The fact that any department serves alcohol is alarming, said Jerry Smith, a retired Los Angeles fire captain and advocate for firefighter rights and safety.

``My concern is, what is this doing to the image of firefighters _ the 343 firefighters that gave their lives at the World Trade Center?'' he said. ``These people who think drinking in the fire hall is so important, they're hurting us.''

On the Net: National Volunteer Fire Council