Alcohol was suspected in that case as well, Varone said, noting that the cover up included a story about an off-duty bar room brawl. As a result of both of those incidents, FDNY, with support of the department’s firefighter union, implemented a random drug and alcohol testing policy, Varone said.
The department decided to have two buses pull into stations and require department members to give samples under the threat of termination, Varone said. Before that, they offered “no-questions-asked” counseling and help for any fire department member who asked for it, Varone said.
“But, if you didn’t ask, and that bus pulled up on that apron in front of your station, and you decided not to give a sample, you’re gone,” Varone said.
It was the department’s way to “shift the bell curve,” a term Varone said meant the culture of the fire department changed and more people were complying with the rules than not. “It takes a lot to shift the curve,” Varone said.
Other issues that have given the fire service a black eye include many incidents of theft or embezzlement of fire department funds, hoax noose incidents, cheating on exams and on pay roll issues, Varone said.
Arson, sex in the fire station, joy riding and pranks are a few more.
“The problems are bad enough that people are noticing and we have to do something about it,” Varone said, adding that it takes leadership and integrity among the officers and chiefs to change some of the unacceptable cultural issues with the fire service.
“There has to be a balance between loyalty and the brotherhood and trust, duty and honor,” Varone said.