Alcohol and Fire Lead to Major Headache

An unfortunate decision by the fire chief of Tarpon Springs, Florida, to respond to a fire after attending a social function has landed him in hot water with his bosses. Chief Stephen Moreno was placed on administrative leave after he admitted to the city officials that he had been drinking prior to responding to a fatal fire on January 14, 2010. Chief Moreno, who apologized for his lapse in judgment, has led the department since 2005.

Firefighters from Tarpon Springs were assisted by personnel from East Lake, Palm Harbor, Clearwater and Safety Harbor, in battling the fire that killed Dr. Frederick Roever. Moreno reportedly arrived wearing civilian clothes and started issuing orders without assuming command or being assigned an operational role. The fire chief said that he had been attending a social function when the call came reporting a fire, and that some time had passed between the time he imbibed, and the time he responded. 

To his credit, Moreno informed City Manager Mark LeCouris and Mayor Beverley Billiris of the lapse in judgment before anyone complained. On hearing this Billiris ordered a full investigation on the incident, and placed Moreno on leave until the whole investigation is over. Afterwards, additional complaints about the chief’s conduct were lodged with the city administration.

Under the IAFC’s Zero Tolerance Alcohol Policy, fire departments are encouraged to adopt a policy that personnel refrain from responding to alarms until at least eight hours after they last consumed an alcoholic beverage.

Download the IAFC Alcohol Policy: Download IAFCpol_Alcohol_inFireEmergServ.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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