The Alcohol Question

Aug. 14, 2006
You are a rookie firefighter who is assigned to vacuuming the dormitory. As you are performing your duties, you notice a bottle of alcohol under the engineer’s bed and you know that alcohol is strictly forbidden on fire department premises. What would you do?

You are a rookie firefighter who is assigned to vacuuming the dormitory. As you are performing your duties, you notice a bottle of alcohol under the engineer's bed. You know that alcohol is strictly forbidden on fire department premises. What would you do and why?

The first thing I would do is gather the facts. Since alcohol on the premises is such a violation of our policy, my first thought would be that this is some kind of test. I would approach the engineer and ask him about the bottle under his bed.

Keeping in mind that there are three different shifts that use the bed, I would keep an open mind since the bottle may have been left by one of the members on the other shift.

My response would be dictated by the engineer's reactions. If he tells me he knows nothing about the bottle, I would take it to the captain myself. I would expect the captain to launch his own investigation. At this point, I would feel that I have handled the situation to the best of my ability.

If the engineer is evasive or tells me to mind my own business, I will make it clear that the captain needs to be made aware of the bottle of alcohol under his bed. This would be uncomfortable for me, but I would not be willing to let it pass without taking the proper action. My objective would be to let the engineer know the value of bringing this violation to the captain's attention.

I know it will make the engineer look better in the eyes of the captain if he comes forward with the information on his own. If he is unwilling to come forward, I have no alternative but to tell the captain myself. Lastly, doing so will make it much easier on my relationships with my fellow firefighters.

The engineer says he is sorry and tells you that he will take the bottle out to his truck. What would you do and why?

Answer: I would once again explain to the engineer that the captain needs to be informed. The issue of having a bottle of alcohol is such a violation of the policies and procedures that I would be unwilling to jeopardize my job or compromise the fire department by remaining silent. I would make another attempt to try to convince him to go to the captain. If he were unwilling to do so, I would tell the captain myself.

The engineer tells you that he had a small drink this morning and that he is sorry, he made a mistake. He reminds you that he has known you for a long time, even before you came on the fire department. He has helped you get through your first two probationary exams. What would you do and why?

I would thank him for his help thus far in my career. I would then redirect him to the issue at hand. It has now become apparent that he has been drinking on duty. This is even more serious than just having a bottle of alcohol on the premises. The captain must be notified immediately and the company must be put out of service. There is no way I would allow this engineer to drive.

The engineer says that he is not feeling well. His solution is to tell the captain that he wants to go home sick. What would you do and why?

This would not be an acceptable solution. I would tell him that I am not willing to go along with his plan or be a party to a cover up. In addition to his drinking on duty, he is would be making matters worse by getting into his car and driving home. There is just no way I would allow that to happen. The engineer agrees to go to the captain but says that the captain is in a meeting with the battalion chief. He wants to wait until he is finished with his meeting.

How would this affect your actions?
I would tell him that this was important enough to interrupt the meeting immediately. If he is more comfortable with me accompanying him, I will do so. I would make sure this issue was taken care of immediately.


Initially the question dealt solely with a bottle of alcohol under the engineer's bed. It is important for a candidate not to assume it belongs to a particular member just because it is under his bed. It is significant to note that there are several other firefighters that use the same bed, one on each of the other shifts. Since there are a total of three firefighters that use the bed, there is a two-thirds chance that it belongs to one of the other engineers.

The first step is to approach the individual and gather the facts. If you approach the engineer and he tells you he doesn't know anything about the bottle, you can then take the bottle to the captain and wash your hands of the situation. He or she will launch an investigation and you are out of the loop.

If, on the other hand, the engineer becomes evasive, tells you to mind your own business, or owns up to it you now have to take appropriate action.

The appropriate action would be to take the bottle to the captain and have the engineer be accountable for his actions. There is a series of follow up questions that try to lure the candidate into delaying or not going to the captain at all.

The engineer has tried a series of tactics to get the candidate to compromise his or her values and to weaken his stance on notifying the captain.

Imagine for a moment a candidate who allows the engineer to put the bottle back into his truck and does nothing further. The follow-up is that if a candidate does not address the issue, a fire call could come in and the engineer could crash the rig, The same thing could happen if the candidate allows the engineer to go home "sick."

It is important to note that an engineer who leaves the station in his own private vehicle and drives home is still a liability for the fire agency. Imagine if he has an accident on the way home and injures a citizen. If. During the subsequent police investigation it is determined that he has been drinking, it stands to reason that the fire department allowed him to drive home. It could be argued that the department should have recognized he had been drinking. If it comes out that you knew this to be true, your job will be in jeopardy. At a minimum. It would be considered bad judgment on your part. Think what a monumental liability you have just incurred for the agency. All of this could have been prevented, but you did not want to intervene when you should have because you did not want to be a snitch.

The fire service is looking for individuals who have the intestinal fortitude to handle uncomfortable situations. You cannot sweep this under the carpet. This is a serious offense. This goes against everything that we stand for in the fire service. We are looking for individuals who are not afraid to stick up for what they believe in.

In this situation, the path of least resistance would be to turn your head and take no action. Unfortunately, although this would be much easier, it is not acceptable. There are hundreds of people interested in becoming a firefighter. It takes a special person with a certain conviction to become one.

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