San Diego Firefighter Loses Appeal of Discipline for Off-Duty Drinking

Today’s burning question: Can my fire department tell me I can’t drink while off-duty? I mean… who do they think they are suspending me for drinking when I’m on my own time? It’s not fair. Oh, by the way I was attending a fire department training program at the union hall at the time.

Answer: Let me quote San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joan M. Lewis: “even absent a specific rule, it strikes the court as difficult to understand how becoming intoxicated and disruptive during a department-offered class would not be subject to discipline.”

The case giving rise to the above quote involved San Diego firefighter Kyle Kutzke, who was suspended for 72-hours for being intoxicated and disruptive during a November 2012 class held at the union hall. The class, “Fire Prevention 1B,” was paid for by the fire department and necessary for the certain promotions within the department. Kutzke was off-duty and attending the class on his own time.

Kutzke appealed his 72-hour suspension to the San Diego Civil Service Commission arguing that because he was off duty, he should not be disciplined for drinking. The Commission upheld the suspension but reduced the discipline to 60 hours.

That prompted Kutzke to appeal to Superior Court, where he added damage claims for lost wages, lost overtime shifts totaling $9,000 and even the loss of three promotions totaling $20,000. Judge Lewis rejected Kutzke’s arguments.

More on the story.

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.
  • mr618

    This reminds me of the retirement party scene in “Backdraft:”
    “Didja ever wonder why you’re stuck at permanent lieutenant?”
    “[hic] No.”

  • Mike in ca

    “Felony stupid”.

    This reminiscent of the scandal with Cal Fire which was occurring at about the same time period.

    And of other more recent events of drinking on duty or being intoxicated and coming in to work, in San Francisco.

    In the article, he was celebrating the election of a new mayor, who has since left under a “dark cloud” and has since been replaced by another person in that capacity.

    While he may have been correct in his claims about there being “No Policy” about being drunk off duty and attending a State Fire Training (SFT) class, his Instructor/s should have noticed his behavior and counseled him.

    That’s what were told in our SFT “Ethics Class”, to be a good instructor and mentor.

    Now that he has “suffered the consequences of his actions” and is still on the job, let this be his “Learning Experience”.

    “Goofing up” like this will cost you financially and in work assignments.

    Having a good time is one think, but getting “blotted out” is more than that. If he is suffering from PTSD it incumbent for both him and the SDFD to help him through his difficulties.

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