CHIEF BILLY GOLDFEDER
www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com

By now you have probably read the media reports where some undisclosed sources say that autopsy results showed that a Boston Firefighter who died in the Line of Duty while operating at a restaurant fire in August had traces of cocaine in his system, while another Firefighter had a high blood-alcohol content.

Firefighters Warren Payne, 53, of Newton, Mass., and Paul Cahill, 55, of Scituate, Mass., were both tragically killed at that fire in August.
The media is reporting (from leaked documents) that one Firefighter was legally drunk and the other Firefighter had illegal drugs in his system. Meanwhile, the victims' families are grieving over the loss of their loved ones....with a new twist to further add to their life long grief. Five children lost their fathers. "I hope this isn't true. My husband really died a hero," Cahill's wife, Anne, is quoted in the papers in Boston.

Well, they clearly lived heroic lives and were heroic firefighters. One of the most well know and written about Chiefs of the FDNY was Chief Edward Croker, he served in the late 1800's and early 1900's. He had many great quotes but one I have always liked that says something to the effect of "When a man becomes a Fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished....what he does after that is all in the line of work...."

Sorry ladies, but people who rode fire apparatus (horses included) back then were called Firemen, that's history and that's the quote. Don't get off the subject.

The point is that Firefighters Payne and Cahill were brave and absolutely lead heroic lives as Firefighters. Their history and years of heroic, brave and dedicated service prove it and speak for themselves.

But, if what the reports are saying is true related to the alcohol and drugs, they have caused irreparable and life long pain and suffering to those they love the most-their family members. How? There are significant possibilities that local, state and Federal death benefits to the families may be challenged-if what is reported is true and factual. So it is possible that not only have the families of these fallen Firefighters suffered horrific losses-but may also end up without the fiscal death benefits that the families are entitled to-because of the actions of their lost loved ones.

What a nightmare.
Ever work with a Firefighter who is not "clean"..? It's a real treat. We could get into the discussion of how that can happen-but the fact of the matter is that it does happen. I would guess each of us have known a Firefighter at one time or another that had no business being on duty. And I would also guess that in almost every case, the issue was ignored. More back then, "back in the day"---a bit less these days. But ignoring the condition of another Firefighter is and has been a chosen option. It's not easy taking on issues like drinking on duty for most. And in some places, if you do it, your career is pretty well shot..like it or not. Ahhhh the Brotherhood. So for that and other reasons, many firefighters and fire officers choose to ignore it. They let someone else worry about it. Another tour/shift, another Officer or Chief, another Firefighter or whoever. But unfortunately, the "system" (official and unofficial) at many FD's creates an easier avenue to ignore the problem than to deal with it. That's the problem.

As you know, inappropriate drinking and illegal drug abuse is a societal problem-and the FD, any FD, is a part of society. So it shouldn't be a shock that a Firefighter may be drunk or high on duty or responding to calls. To me, the bigger shock is the in-depth cultural behaviors and attitudes that can allow it, hide it and sometimes even support it. After all "He's a great Firefighter and what a great guy"...."He has issues-what are you gonna do, rat the guy out"? "She is always like that-and functions better that way" .

A Department that provides open doors to help those with a problem is probably a better place than those that don't. But most FD's already do that. Having access to getting help is not generally the problem....it's getting the "problem" to get the help and the actions required to make that happen.

The problem is at the 1st line supervisor level, where the rubber meets the road-and so often is where FD's succeed or FD's fail, as the link. This is NOT an easy issue by any stretch of the imagination. It is sometimes much easier to make decisions on the fireground than it is to make tough decisions related to those you work with. And in many, many cases, these are people who you have gone thru a lot with-good times and bad. Whadayagonnado....turn the guy in!?

The solution is supervisory training and more related training for fire officers so they find a way and understand how to help "the Brother or Sister" who has a drinking or drug problem. And those may absolutely be the toughest decisions any fire officer has to make due to the way "we" act either as the victim or as the ones who don't want to see a "good" firefighter get "ratted out". "Let him sleep it off"...."she is going thru some tough times"...."who are you to talk???....I have smelled you when you have arrived at the firehouse-and now you want HIM to get help"

Not easy stuff but stuff that must be dealt with and confronted by officers working with other officers and firefighters. It takes courage and bravery. Words we are familiar with. But the courage and bravery used at runs and the courage and bravery used in "attacking" a serious personal issue or disease are from two different worlds. Courage and bravery on the fireground is one we usually have no problem dealing with-after all, we are attempting to save a life. Courage and bravery in dealing with a member who has a drug and/or booze problem is a lot tougher in some respects. There are some in our business who do/don't see that as heroic. But you are still attempting to save a life-they just don't know it and often "the victim" doesn't want rescuing-because they don't know they need help. A bit different than a kid trapped in a 2nd floor bedroom. The kid is in a room filled with smoke and fire--the kid clearly wants out. The firefighter who has a drinking or drug problem thinks the "room" they are in is just fine and doesn't always want out. And if you enter that "room", THEIR room, the response could be and has been "who they heII do you think you are entering MY room to rescue ME"........!?

Tough stuff.

Good fire officers are often the only way this problem can be dealt with along with appropriate drug testing that recognizes everyone's rights. Everyone's rights means the victim, the other firefighters who have to work with the victim, all the families and the public. Another option, that being the FF with the problem actually taking responsibility in getting help on their own before there is a crisis, cannot always be counted on for a variety of reasons. But good fire officers working with other good fire officers, firefighters, Union or Association officials and others working together with counseling pros to save a career and a life is a system that must be in place. But before that-a process is needed that helps determine who can and should be a boss and who shouldn't. Some FD's have that in place, some don't. A white hat and a gold badge can be pinned on anyone with a pulse. Ever seen that?

Leading the "Brothers" and the "Sisters" at and into a fire takes good fire officers. Officers with years and years of experience and training so that we have a good shot at succeeding at whatever the emergency is. And with being a good officer also comes the ability, training and qualifications to take on the internal cultures that hide and cover up these difficult dependency and personnel issues. It is far from easy. Many GOOD Fire Officers have tried and ended up on the cutting room floor. But that comes under the courage and brave stuff.

Real Brotherhood? I got your "real brother/sisterhood" right HERE if we are picking and choosing when to do our jobs as officers and firefighters when we decide to ignore the problems. We would never ignore the signs of flashover if they were right in front of our faces-and we would take immediate action to protect our members. We would never ignore the signs of structural collapse, and again, would take immediate action to protect our firefighters. But yet when it comes to booze and drugs in the firehouse, so often we intentionally decide to take no action and hope that it will take care of itself, or that "someone else" will take immediate action. And sometimes it flashes over, impacting numerous victims.

Many in our business were mad when the coroners report was leaked to the media regarding the conditions of those firefighters. Firefighters should have been more than mad. It is disgusting that the information was used the way it was without it first being officially released. The families-who had only started the grief process now had to deal with the way it was handled and what was published by the Boston media. Family members learned about the coroners report from the media?!?! WTF! The actions related to the leak were absolutely horrible, unfair, inappropriate and any other related words you can come up with. It was BS. But it did happen and the information got out. How it will end up, how the families will now suffer even more and what additional fiscal and benefit related losses they will encounter remains to be seen. I don't think families should have to suffer when we do some of the things we do. But they do. That's the way it works. We rarely think about how our actions will effect others-especially those we love. Sometimes we need to think more about those whose pictures are in our wallets and desks...than we actually do. Sometimes they are the ones who suffer the most due to our inappropriate actions. They get left holding the bag. Our families are the "them" when it comes to the booze, the drugs and us.


Some in our business even got mad at the fire service media for relaying what the Boston media had printed. Look, it was FIRE related news and since it was out, the fire media reported it. While we may get angry at the Boston media for handling this the way they did (they had a choice-they made their decision), look past that at the real issue while praying real hard for the Payne and Cahill families. The real issue at this point is to think about what can be done to avoid that from happening again in any FD. I am not talking about some reckless and sick decision to leak a coroners report-which was reckless, sick and if criminal-someone should have their clock rung. But the fact of the matter is that the info got out and firefighters have no control over that now.

What I am talking about though is what was leaked in the coroners report and what the booze and the drugs can do to firefighters individually, as a group or company, our families and us personally. There is a lot that can be done to avoid that from happening again in any FD. We just have to want it.

Love our families? Brotherhood? Sometimes I think that's just another word.
Ignoring the booze and drug problem in our firehouses creates a 100% BMA situation.
Brotherhood my a**.
And look where it leaves kids and families.
Take Care,
BillyG
The Secret List 10-17-07 / 1537 hours

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Comment by Greg cousler on April 4, 2008 at 9:19am
We have drug testing at our fire department. It supposed to be random. Sometimes I thing that drug testing is conducted in a lowest bid fashion. However in light of some of the stories I have just read perhaps some of these incidents could have been prevented if some of these ff's involved did not partake of drugs for fear of loosing their jobs due to a random drug testing policy.
Comment by Triple J on April 3, 2008 at 4:18pm
I too remember the days of full-service bars in the basement of my local VFD as well as the soda machines that had beer in one of the slots. I made the mistake many times of going to calls seriously intoxicated. Fortunately, I, as most of the Fire Service realized this was a great way to kill ourselves and those around us and stopped doing it. It's up to us who have been there to show those that are still stuck there the new way of doing business where we all go home at the end of the shift.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on October 18, 2007 at 10:50pm
ChiefBillyG:
I, for one, was upset that national fire service venues took the story and ran with it. They had a choice to print it or not. They chose to, but at least the reporter or editor could have said, "look; though we feel that this is an inappropriate time to publish this, it is out there and we feel that, in all fairness to the grieving families, we would wish that there is no rush to judgment, until the official autopsy reports become available. In the meantime, let our thoughts and prayers be with the fallen firefighters' families".
But they didn't do that. In fact; one publication changed the headline TWICE to appease those who were troubled by the wording of the original headline. It had the two brothers already guilty.
Issues such as drug and alcohol abuse should not be "covered up". I agree that more should be done on prevention and recognition. But you are talking about a cultural change in the way firefighting has been viewed down through history. I'm talking about "toughness" and "a no room for the weak" mentality from top to bottom.
It takes a tough guy to eat smoke, bust down doors, make a grab, get burnt in the process, put a band aid on it and go to the next one. No room for the weak; right?
But, dependency on drugs and alcohol has always been addressed as a "weakness" in one's character. And no one wants to admit that they are weak; especially firefighters. It's one of our "dirty little secrets".
You know as well as I do that, before CISD, many would crawl into the bottle to drown out the screams of the victims or the loss of a fellow firefighter. Think about it; how many funerals are followed by a visit to our favorite watering holes, where we lavish each other with toasts to our fallen brother and stories till closing time?
As a fire service, we have been enablers to those who choose to "numb up" to get through a shift.
I agree that better recognition and quicker intervention is needed. It is going to take time and it isn't going to be easy.
Thank you for a very thoughtful article.
Art Goodrich

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