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Massachusetts Firefighter Allegedly Drove Apparatus Without a License

A Lowell, Massachusetts firefighter who was found not guilty of drunk driving is now in hot water for having driven fire apparatus while his license was suspended.

Firefighter Donald Goyette was arrested on October 20, 2011 by Massachusetts State Police and charged with drunk driving, a lane violation, and refusal to submit to a breathalyzer. The refusal offense triggered an automatic six month suspension of Goyette’s driver’s license.

Goyette never informed his superiors of the offenses and despite a jury verdict in his favor on the drunk driving offense, his license remained suspended on the refusal charge. Never the less, it appears that Goyette may have continued to drive fire apparatus while on duty for the entire six months his license was suspended.

According to the LowellSun.com  neither the fire department nor the city manager were aware that  Goyette’s driver’s license had been suspended until they were informed by a reporter. Thereafter, Goyette was placed on unpaid administrative leave.

The details are available in the LowellSun.com web site. Its worse but I won’t go into it.

The story should not sound all that unfamiliar (remember Haverhill, Massachusetts firefighter Kevin Thompson who allegedly drove fire trucks for years without a license) and again raises questions about what fire chiefs need to do to manage the off-duty misconduct and driver’s licensure of firefighters. Many departments mandate that firefighters report all off duty criminal and driving offenses. Some are now resorting to performing periodic criminal background checks as well as driving record checks.

Neither of these activities offer a guaranty that this kind of misconduct will be caught, but they are at least a step in that direction.  Seriously… a reporter had to break this news to the fire department? How can reporters possibly be watching this kind of thing closer than we are?

Are we at the point where a company officer needs to check the driver’s license of his/her personnel each shift? It is a sad state of affairs that such a practice must even be contemplated.

That question leads to another: did others within the department know about Goyette’s situation and choose to cover for him? “I got your back”… can be both a strength and a weakness of our fire service culture.

When it leads to a reporter breaking a story like this I’d have to say it is the latter. 

Comments - Add Yours

  • LFDOff.

    Curt, up to you whether you want to allow this comment, but given your questions I thought you should know. It was a well kept secret for months until the divorce proceedings began and it appears calls were made to reporters, possibly even before the department. I don’t think the reporters found out with their own research. As is always the case, there is more to the story than the paper reported.

    • http://firelawblog.com Curt Varone

      Thanks LFDOff

      You confirmed my suspicions… just knowing firefighters and how things work I surmised as much.

      In some ways it goes back to what I have written and spoken about: the Robin Hood Syndrome.

      Under what set of circumstances would Robin Hood willingly turn over one of his men to the Sheriff of Nottingham to be punished? It won’t happen. Robin Hood’s men protect each other. “I got your back”.

      The way our departments have become polarized – with both sides claiming to have the moral high ground – it is inevitable that these kinds of things are going to keep happening.

      “I got your back, brother…” The problem is how do you have someone’s back when they are committing a crime? That is corruption… that is what led to (or at least contributed greatly to) the Rodney King beating – where police officers had each others back… and looked the other way at things they should not have.

  • LFDOff.

    No one looked the other way. When I say it was a well kept secret, I meant from the entire job. Far as I know there was no one protecting anyone. Several times people have been in the same situation and opted out of driving the apparatus for the suspension period without repercussions. Under past practice it would have been allowed. This was completely different.

  • Guest

    Not a secret from the entire job. People knew…so not sure what divorce proceedings have to do with this situation. Plenty of people knew and this guy is known to be well DISliked on the FD…sure no one had a problem bringing it to the attention of higher-ups.

  • http://firelawblog.com Curt Varone

    OK Folks

    I’m not sure what is going on here: it was a secret, it was not a secret, people knew, people didn’t know… The guy was disliked – but no one informed his officer??? or the fire chief???

    So what is the rule: we allow people we like to break the law? Those we don’t like we are free to rat out? And where is the line between those we do and don’t cover for?

    I suppose my point: it shouldn’t be about WHO they are (and if we like them or hate them) but rather about WHAT they did. When we only have the back of those we like and rat out those we don’t – there is a slipperly ethical slope we need to stay off.

  • Guest47

    I will never understand the expectation that I should “have the back” of someone who would willingly risk MY job and pension so HE/SHE could knowingly break the rules. Shouldn’t HE/SHE consider having MY back by not putting me in that position? It is such a selfish attitude I just can’t comprehend it.

  • Guest

    So because he’s getting a divorce it all comes out now??