As I write this, I am deeply saddened and disappointed at the fact that what follows even needs to be written.
We are firemen. We are human. Humans make mistakes, and firemen probably make more than the average human. With that understanding, I want to address a problem that afflicts society as a whole, but has really affected my department and several other local departments significantly over the years.
I loathe drunk drivers. I have zero compassion for anyone who gets behind the wheel while impaired by alcohol. Even so, I hate that my department has lost several good firemen to termination following a DUI conviction. Other departments have seen worse, losing the lives of firefighters to alcohol-related vehicle collisions. I feel for the families affected by the loss of jobs and loved ones.
Here’s the thing: it’s completely avoidable. Driving while intoxicated is an act of selfishness and stupidity. It shows a complete absence of judgment or forethought. I’ll be honest- if you can’t have an adult beverage without making such a colossally poor life-altering decision, how do we, your fellow firemen, trust you to make decisions that affect our lives and those of others at work?
We have all run innumerable car wrecks involving drunk drivers. Some have seen the significant tragedy caused by driving while under the influence. Even with this knowledge and experience, there are still too many firemen that drink and drive. Even if they don’t cause a wreck, there are many firefighters arrested on DUI charges every year. Here in Georgia, you don’t have to have a blood alcohol content of any particular number to be convicted of DUI; it can simply be proven that you were less safe than a driver who had consumed no alcohol. That’s the key- guys have to really understand how unsafe it is. We talk about firefighter safety as if fireground operations are the most dangerous thing we do in our lives. If you are one of those firefighters that has a few drinks and drives home, you are doing something so much more dangerous than venting a roof or searching the floor above the fire.
Some statistics from the CDC and NHTSA:
Have this discussion with your crew. Let them know how much they mean to you. Explain to them how serious this matter really is, and how such a horrible problem is completely avoidable. I’ve told my guys that I don’t care how far away they are or what time of night it is; if they need a ride to keep from driving drunk, I’ll be there. I have offered to drive EVERYONE home from a gathering, even if it takes five trips back and forth and hours of driving all around to get them all there. I have seen some great firemen leave the fire service because they didn’t pick up a phone and ask for help. I have read headlines about others whose fates were even more tragic.
We are supposed to be the ones on whom people count when they have emergencies. We’re not supposed to be the ones CAUSING the emergencies. We are held to a higher standard. What kind of trust does it instill in the public when they see one of our mugshots on the news for a DUI? How does that help us get them on our side? We are supposed to be setting the example. Those of you that drink and drive, get your act together. Those that don’t talk to your coworkers about it, it’s only a matter of time before it affects your department.