Mandatory Drug Testing Considered for Boston Firefighters

Updated: 11-30-2007 09:42:41 AM


Courtesy of The Boston Herald
All Boston firefighters should undergo random drug and alcohol testing and be pushed to get and remain in shape, according to recommendations by a panel formed after two firefighters died in a restaurant blaze, according to a draft copy of the report obtained by the Herald.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is expected to discuss the 22-page report during a briefing at 10:30 a.m. today at City Hall.

Autopsy reports revealed West Roxbury firefighter Warren Payne had traces of cocaine in his system and Paul Cahill had alcohol in his system, according to officials briefed on the results of the autopsies. Cahill and Payne died battling a fire Aug. 29 at the Tai Ho Chinese restaurant in West Roxbury.

The mandatory drug testing recommendation would have to be negotiated with the city's firefighter's union, which in the past has blocked such testing.

The panel, convened after the autopsy results were made public, wrote that fire department cooperation is crucial.

"We can design the most effective drug and alcohol testing policy imaginable, but it will be worthless if it is not actively supported by the department," they wrote.

Perhaps the most unique recommendation is that a committeee, including union, city and fire officials would be tasked with implementing the seven recommendations.

Firefighters Local 718 president Ed Kelly was unavailable for comment this morning.

The following are the seven recommendations contained in a draft report provided to the Herald:

1. Establishment of a "strategic planning committee" made up of fire department, city and union leadership to implement recommendations

2. Reorganize and augment the fire commissioner's civilian staff so the commissioner has three deputy commissioners focused on administration and finance; planning and organizational development; and labor and management

3. Institution of "accepted management and oversight practices" by the commissioner and fire chief

4. The department should establish a "credentialed professional development academy" program with specific curricula developed for company and chief-level officers

5. The deapartment should offer classes to help department members prepare for promotional exams as a way of nurturing new leaders and promoting a "diverse departmental leadership."

6. Immediate steps should be taken to improve the health, fitness and wellness of Boston firefighters by establishing a "comprehensive health, fitness and wellness program."

7. Random drug and alcohol testing for all Boston Fire personnel in "safety-sensitive positions" from the commissioner to entry-level firefighters.

The panel reviewed the department's policies and procedures dealing with supervision, accountability and "substance abuse and impairment," among other things, according to the report.

Panelists were James M. Channon, president and CEO of the National Fire Protection Association, Dr. Sheila Chapman, Boston Medical Center addiction and medicine professor, and Craig P. Coy, president and CEO of Homeland Security Group.

Republished with permission from The Boston Herald$57296