Reno Fire Department A-Okay With Firefighters Testing Positive for Booze, Drugs

By John Lavitt 07/15/14

Reno firefighters with cocaine or marijuana in their bloodstreams while at work won't face any disciplinary action, according to a new policy.

firefighter truck.jpg
There's a bar on the way there... Shutterstock

In a mind-boggling decision, Reno fire fighters are allowed to show up to work with up to .08 percent blood alcohol content or certain levels of illegal drugs in their system without facing discipline.

According to a report in the Reno Gazette Journal, firefighters can be found with cocaine or marijuana in their system and no disciplinary action will take place, even if the drugs are present in their system while they are on duty. According to the firefighter contract with the city, the policy will remain in place unless it revised through the collective bargaining process.

As reported by journalist Anjeanette Damon, every other employee of the City of Reno falls under the city's general drug and alcohol policy that dictates a clear prohibition on drug and alcohol use in the workplace. As detailed in the city policy manual, "[w]hile on duty, whether on or off city property, employees are prohibited from using, being under the influence of, possessing, manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, ingesting and/or inhaling alcohol or illegal drugs."

Courtesy of the International Association of Firefighters and the city, this leeway was passed in 2002. The policy states the allowable limit of marijuana is five times the legal limit for driving, while the acceptable limit of amphetamines and cocaine is twice the legal limit for driving. The Reno Fire Department is the only entity to have collectively bargained their own drug and alcohol policy, while every other employee in Reno, including police, fall under the city's clear prohibition against drug and alcohol use while on the job.

When the existence of this policy was realized, a media firestorm started to brew. Although confronted by the insanity of such a policy being on the books, the officials involved seemed not to think there was anything amiss, particularly Fire Chief Michael Hernandez. "What I'm sensing is you're trying to make an issue out of something that really isn't an issue," Hernandez said. "Granted it's a higher threshold, but does that mean firefighters are coming to work drunk? No."

Given the importance of safety and having a clear head on the job, one would believe the union would be against such a policy. However, IAFF President Dennis Jacobsen told the Gazette Journal, "The policy seems to work. If you could show me eight or nine occurrences where you've proven the policy is inadequate, then absolutely we would sit down with the city. But I don't want to try and fix something that is so rarely used."

While impairment puts both firefighters and the public at risk, Reno's policy is not exactly unusual. According to an investigation by NBC Chicago last year, several communities in Illinois have policies allowing for a .08 percent blood alcohol level or higher.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.