Albuquerque Tackles Firefighter DWI Problem

The Albuquerque Fire Department has been struggling with a persistent problem: drunk driving arrests of its off duty personnel. in 2008 there were 6 DWI arrests of AFD firefighters. In 2009, the number jumped to 9. Each new case has been receiving unprecidented news coverage, leaving the public, politicians and the media asking questions about just what is going on in the AFD.

Any time an employer seeks to influence off duty behavior, it runs certain risks: will the actions be challenged by the employees? Will it be challenged in the courts thereby tying up the department for years to come? Will it be attacked in the press for going too far or not going far enough? Will it bring additional attention to a matter that might soon resolve itself on its own? In this case – something needed to be done and the leadership of the department took a measured approach as this video shows.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • John K. Murphy

    Off duty behavior of firefighters certainly is certainly within the rights of the department to become involved especially when it involves a life safety issue to the general public, to the firefighter and fellow firefighters. What’s to say that the firefighter is intoxicated the night before their shift and comes to work under the influence of alcohol. It would certainly affect the performance of that firefighter and if they are the driver that shift, then the issue is compounded if involved in a traffic collision. There are several cases where off duty behavior resulted in discipline or termination when the firefighter was intoxicated and was involved in a fatality traffic collision or where alcohol was involved in the loss of a driver’s license for the firefighter. Most departments require the firefighter to have a valid driver’s license for continued employment – the loss of that license would mean the loss of their job. Many departments have a last chance agreement that would allow the firefighter to attend mandatory drug and alcohol counseling and to join alcohol anonymous to manage their drinking problems. Is it a problem? It certainly is when it involves your personal health, safety and future with your fire department.

  • Curt Varone

    I think a lot of fire chiefs shy away from confronting problems like this. There are so many important duty related matters that it is easy to rationalize putting something like this on the back burner, and deal with each case as it arises as a separate disciplinary issue.


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