Morphine Pumps and Driving Apparatus

Today’s burning question: I am a firefighter paramedic in a volunteer fire department. One of our ambulance drivers  was recently put on a morphine pump, and many of us are concerned about whether he should be allowed to drive, or even respond at all. The fire chief and the fire board are allowing it because he has a note from his doctor. Is this legal?

Answer: Let me ask the same exact question, but in a different way:

I am a volunteer ambulance driver and unfortunately I have a morphine pump. It is a low dose – so low that my doctor has concluded I can still drive and more importantly still drive the ambulance. The fire chief and the fire board have reviewed my doctor’s note and are allowing me to drive. However some members are complaining and are trying to get the department to make me stop driving. If that happens can I sue them and the department for violating my rights?

Which of these two questions is the correct question?

All kidding aside – if his doctor knows he drives an ambulance and says he can safely do so with a morphine pump, I am not sure the department can stop him without violating the American’s with Disabilities Act, and probably state disability discrimination laws as well.

Personally I am astounded that a doctor would say that someone with a morphine pump can drive an emergency vehicle – but that being said – it is not the chief or the fire board’s role to overrule the doctor. One thought might be to have the department doctor (assuming you have one) contact the member’s doctor just to confirm the note is accurate and that the member’s doctor understands the demands of the position. NFPA 1582, Standard of Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, would be a good resource for the doctor to use in making the determination.

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.

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