Updated: 02-29-2004 11:51:59 AM

NYC Fire Chief Urges Random Drug Testing

NEW YORK (AP) -- A New York City firefighter was using cocaine before he crashed his truck into another fire truck headed to a blaze, the fire commissioner announced Saturday.

FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said he planned to talk with fire union officials about launching random drug testing of all uniformed firefighters, officers and emergency workers following the incident.

"Drug use is strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated," Scoppetta said. "This is a safety issue - for the public, and our own members."

Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said the union welcomes "the invitation to develop a fair system that protects the rights of our members."

Cassidy also urged the department to provide better counseling for firefighters because, he said, many are exhibiting "post-traumatic stress behavior" from the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

More than a dozen people were injured in the Feb. 21 accident - including firefighter Thomas Lennon, who tested positive for cocaine.

Lennon, 41, was driving to a fire in the South Bronx when the truck from Engine Co. 83 skidded and slammed into a fire truck from another unit.

Lennon, a seven-year veteran, was taken for drug testing according to department policy and tested positive, Scoppetta said.

Fire officials did not say whether they believe Lennon's drug use contributed to the crash, which fire officials initially blamed on wet pavement.

Lennon, who is on medical leave, faces suspension and administrative charges. Messages seeking comment from him were not immediately returned Saturday.