[cifnmedia] A National Fire Service Embarrassment!

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2004 11:39:02 -0800 (PST)

It's Become A National Fire Service Embarrassment!
Provider: EGV
WRITTEN BY : Jerry Smith
E-Mail: jerryfire@xxxxxxxxxxxxx , DATE POSTED: 12/5/03
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
FOREWORD: If you've wondered how far the tradition for drinking in the 
volunteer fire hall reaches mainstream America, this telling editorial should 
pinch a nerve for those of you that oppose the drinking of alcohol in any form 
while engaged in fire service activities. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 
volunteer in Elgin, Iowa testing fire hydrants or a career firefighter eating 
dinner at a fire station in San Francisco, California what responsible reason 
do you have for any amount of alcohol to be measured in your blood stream while 
on duty or at home available on pager? 

Like a majority of dedicated fire service professionals when I read about 
volunteers drinking a few beers at the firehouse I begin to believe there 
couldn't be that much concern in their hearts for the safety of a community 
that depends on them. It's time to remove the legitimate volunteer and career 
fire service from under a dangerous tradition that continues to be manipulated 
to serve the not so dedicated part-timers and others on the front lines of 
public safety. 


No, it doesn’t make one iota of difference if we’re speaking about Elgin, 
Iowa - Cody Wyoming or San Francisco, California it all adds up to thoughtless 
thinking and a complete disregard for the honor of serving in a very dangerous 
profession and protecting the community you serve.
Since when do we accept and respect a minority of opinion that trashes the fire 
service image and neglects the oath of office they’re supposed to live by. 
It’s time for the public to demand that no fire-rescue agency condones 
alcohol to be consumed by on-duty firefighters in the fire hall. You want to 
drink -- do it off-duty -- and turn the pager off. 

As long as naive community leaders enable the fire hall drinking mentality we 
will continue to cause conflict-ridden incidents like the following: In October 
2002, (KCRG TV9 News Reporter Craig Brown) reports that volunteers may walk off 
the job over the issue of alcohol at the firehouse. The dispute is growing in 
the small town of Elgin in Northeast Iowa between firefighters and certain 
members of the city council: “Every month, the 22 volunteer firefighters of 
Elgin gather for training and then they usually stick around to have a few 
beers at the fire house. Now some people around town are questioning why the 
firefighters are drinking on city property. The issue reached the city's 
insurance company, Grinnell Mutual, which wrote a letter saying: "It has been 
brought to our attention that alcohol is made available at the fire department 
functions. The City of Elgin, City Council and the Fire Chief as well as the 
fire department would be held responsible for any incident that should happen. 
...We are demanding that these types of practices be discontinued immediately. 
Failure to do so will require me to non-renew all policies in force with 
Grinnell Mutual." END 

WHO'S IN CHARGE?

Since when do we allow fire department members to dictate alcohol policy to 
city council members chosen by the electorate to serve and govern the affairs 
of the city? According to reports a city official was appalled by the local 
volunteer fire department and their drinking habits. And in doing so the 
councilwoman was quickly branded a troublemaker and would became a target for 
threats from those that went along with the risky behavior of drinking 
volunteers. Almost immediately, local town folk became fearful of retaliation 
if they were seen talking to anyone brave enough to speak out. Was it too much 
for the good old boys in Elgin and their ego’s that they would be challenged 
in a public forum? 

Then we read other stories about alcohol in the fire halls and then read about 
the rationale of the Wyoming pro-drinking lobby in a recent article by AP 
reporter Robert Black. We keep hearing the weak argument and I quote: “That a 
ban on alcohol would hurt morale. When you risk your life for somebody every 
day, you need to have an association, a bond with them,'' a concerned reader 
who read the article responds: “But why does alcohol have to be a part of 
that bond? I understand the need for a bond but alcohol does not need to be a 
part of that bond. If I ever have to call the fire department I want sober, 
capable firefighters to answer my call. I want to know that they have all their 
facilities available to save my family. Is that more than I should expect? I 
don't think so. 

A POSITIVE PUBLIC IMAGE OR BLACK EYE?

My view of firefighters has definitely been tarnished. I used to look up to 
them as heroes. But because of the events here in the last year I no longer 
feel that way. I know there were firefighters that didn't agree with the fire 
chief where I live but went along with the whole thing any way. Why didn't they 
have a backbone and stand up for what was right? I just don't understand that 
part of the whole thing. I know some of them were happy to see the beer go. Why 
didn't they support the effort?” END 

What’s unfortunate for the fire service in America it’s wearing a black eye 
that keeps on swelling in the public view of outrageous behavior and the 
emerging negative feelings of the public. And if the traditional curse of 
drinking in volunteer fire halls is not bad enough -- now we get shocking and 
outrageous reports that San Francisco firefighters conduct drinking social 
hours in some of its fire stations. I would hope the city fire administration 
moves quickly with appropriate punishment for all involved. 

As a former fire captain in the 2nd largest city in America never did I think 
about drinking in the fire station and for one good reason, I learned early on 
that drinking and firefighting is a deadly mix. Nor could I conceive dulling my 
senses would ever help me do a better job where mental alertness and physical 
strength is king. Never will I forget a deadly head-on vehicle crash and the 
extrication involving a DUI driver on a busy street in west Los Angeles where 
the cries and moaning of a seriously injured mother and the mangled body of her 
dead child in the vehicle would haunt my sub-conscious decades later. 

It’s time for the leadership in the United States Fire Administration to join 
the International Association of Fire Chiefs and condemn any fire department 
that does not possess a zero-tolerance for alcohol in the fire station. Check 
out the links listed below and learn more about how alcohol issues can divide a 
small community.

------



Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network
cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
www.geocities.com/central_illinois_firenet


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