Charges That Hurt

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Over the past two weeks, the headlines on have plastered some of the most potentially damaging to the reputation of America's Bravest: arson, drugs, sexual assault.

For now, they are all just stories. No one has been found guilty, but the charges alone likely have significantly harmed the organizations the men charged represent.

In Ohio, a fire captain charged in an attack on a woman while he was attending a fire service conference. Back home, officials looked into whether he might be linked to other assaults. He was cleared in those cases.

In New York, a local chief charged in a regional cocaine bust. In Arkansas, a junior firefighter charged with stealing a fire truck, which was later found damaged.

And finally, in Pennsylvania, five members of a department -- including its Chief and President -- were jailed for the most heinous crime in the fire service -- charged stemming from arson fires dating back to October 2002

And while all of these stories of charges against firefighters hurt the reputation of the fire service as a whole, none actually 'harmed' a fire service member.

That is, until Thursday night.

In Newcastle, Wyoming ... nestled far from the big cities and tales of firefighter arsonsists and other crimes ... near the South Dakota border, a young firefighter lost her life far too early ... and if the charges against her firefighting 'brother' are true, then a tragic accident becomes a horrendous disaster.

Inside the Story

The Latest: Firefighter Charged with Homicide by Vehicle in Teen Fire Explorer's Death
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?
Post/View: Condolences for Huber
Web Link: Newcastle VFD

In just the 10th grade, student firefighter Anndee Huber was riding with a 46-year-old firefighter Ron J. Caillier in a tanker enroute to a fire call when the unthinkable happened. Police said the driver lost control, drifting off the roadway and rolled over almost two times. Neither Caillier or Huber, were wearing seat belts. The senior firefighter walked away with only minor injuries. Huber was pronounced dead at an area hospital.

The fact that a young, aspiring firefigher is dead is a tragedy, but not necessarily shocking. It happens.

What is shocking, is that another firefighter has been charged with suspicion of driving under the influence in connection with her death.

This incident is sure to fire up the debate of drinking and riding. The fact that any fire service member in America would get on -- let alone DRIVE -- a fire truck under the influence of alcohol is both disturbing and ridiculous.

Firefighters and first responders of all people should know the dangers of alcohol and driving. Every 33 minutes in this country, we respond to an accident that results in someone dying by the hands of a drunk driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But in reality, it happens, though ... possibly once too often.

Whether its the small town volunteer fire department where the practice of having alcohol available to members in the station itself is commonplace -- to big city firehouses where stories of firefighters drinking on duty are not surprising, even in today's 'PC' environment. Just back from the 'big one' and need to unwind with some beers behind the station? Don't forget, the next 'big one' could be a 9-1-1 call away. If it comes out, and you've had a few, don't go.

Firefighters and emergency responders are called upon by those in need, those who have no where else to turn when their lives are in danger. Responding to those emergencies requires pinpoint judgement, quick thinking and faster action. Seconds count, on the scene and enroute to the scene.

Alcohol has no place in an on-duty first responder's life. If you're at party when a pager goes off and you've 'had a few', stay at the party. If your chief lets your members drink at the station and go on calls if you're not 'totally wasted', think about suggesting a policy change.

In response to learning that a nearby fire protection district allowed alcohol in its fire stations, the Illinois Municipal League Risk Management Association started a campaign against the policy, noting:

  • Driving one