Safety must be a top priority at your fire department. A major concern for any fire department is drug and alcohol use by the members. Workplace safety is severely affected when volunteers are responding or working after consuming alcohol, illicit drugs and illegally-obtained prescription medications.
- Are volunteer firefighters regularly responding to scenes after drinking?
- Have volunteers responded to the scene, clearly under the influence?
- Is alcohol being used on fire department property?
- Has drinking or impairment cause problems for your department?
- Does management condone impaired volunteers because, “we need the help?”
- Unfortunately, many fire departments across Missouri have not addressed alcohol use with regard to emergency responses or group events at the station.
These thoughts may help your organization develop a stronger policy on alcohol and drug use by the volunteers:
- It’s perfectly legal to consume alcohol. Just don’t respond or drink on fire department time or property.
- Drinking and driving is illegal. Do not respond after drinking any alcohol.
- Never allow or condone impairment while driving or working at an emergency scene. Forty percent of all fatal crashes in Missouri involve drugs or alcohol.
- Volunteer firefighters are considered employees and are covered by your workers compensation insurance policy. A preventable injury can cause your insurance costs to rise significantly, preventing your department from purchasing needed equipment or upgrades.
- Your fire district may already have an existing drug and alcohol-free workplace policy. Please review it annually, and make sure your volunteers are provided a written copy. Work with your insurance agent or carrier to stay abreast of state drug testing legislative changes. Review this document regularly with all volunteers. Enforce this policy and follow through with disciplinary action when it’s discovered volunteers were drinking prior to responses or at the station.
- If your fire department is part of a municipality, the work comp insurance for your city most likely requires post-injury drug and alcohol testing. Please review your city’s safety manual or employee manual with volunteers.
- Work comp benefits could be reduced 50% or even denied when alcohol or drugs are determined to be a factor in an injury.
Do you make excuses for impaired volunteers? Be careful. Your department, city management or fire board can incur civil liability and criminal charges after an incident, or when employees were found operating on a scene after alcohol or drug use. For example:
- Fire truck crash due to impaired driver;
- Member of the public is injured due to a preventable incident involving alcohol;
- Equipment is damaged or a coworker is injured due to an impaired volunteer;
- Extensive Missouri State Highway Patrol involvement in the incident;
- Media becomes involved, including your local newspaper;
- Social media exposure and local coffee shop talk.
It’s 2018 and our volunteers deserve fire department leadership that promotes safety, education and training. Your community deserves it, too. The internet provides fire departments with more training and policy resources than ever before.
We achieve safety by:
- Providing regular, documented training on equipment, gear and trucks.
- Promoting and enforcing basic safety policies, like requiring seat belt use, reviewing written safety rules and drug and alcohol-free workplaces.
- Providing and requiring the use of protective equipment like SCBA, turnout gear and high-visibility vests.
Safety is a moral and ethical obligation. It’s management’s duty to protect volunteers by equipping them properly and providing training on proper fire and rescue scene practices.
For more information on drug and alcohol-free workplaces, please visit www.worksafecenter.com or contact Mark Woodward at 573-289-5990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.