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Drug/Alcohol-fueled Reno Firefighters? (Opinion)

By ThisIsReno

A Contractual Possibility That Needs to Stop


Submitted by Paul White

It’s a nightmare scenario: 30 tons of Reno Fire Department (RFD) fire truck careening out of control, driven by an alcohol or drug-fueled firefighter. The fire truck slams into a crowd or building, on its way to an emergency call, causing death and destruction on its way to prevent death and destruction

Due to a professionally irresponsible and insanely dangerous drug/alcohol policy in the RFD’s union contract, this tragic scenario is a real possibility.   

Since 2002, the “Drug and Alcohol Testing Policies and Procedures” provision in the RFD contract has allowed firefighters, with levels of illegal drugs and alcohol ranging from DUI level to 5 TIMES DUI  level, to work and to operate equipment. Virtually no punishment or random drug testing are allowed. NO other public safety workers including county firefighters and Reno Police Department, et al., have such an unaccountable and dangerous clause in their contracts.

Community group QOL-Reno.org contacted the City Council to ask for their support in changing this policy. NONE of them would discuss or acknowledge the issue. Reno Fire Chief David Cochran refused to speak about it, as did the RFD Firefighters Union.  City Manager Sabra Newby said she could not say anything about the issue, “… because the contract is currently under negotiation,” which in NO way prevents Newby from expressing an opinion on the policy.   

Finally, QOL-Reno.org personally visited all 13 RFD fire stations, sharing information about this dangerous policy and expressing a need to change it. QOL-Reno spoke with captains and firefighters at each station, urging them to speak out against it.  With few exceptions, they responded with indifference and/or arrogance, and occasional belligerence.

ALL of the above-mentioned individuals, especially our firefighters, have two choices. They must either speak out and take immediate steps to change RFD’s dangerous drug/alcohol policy, or stop talking about how much they care about our city’s safety, health, and financial liability.

Paul D. White is Director of QOL-Reno.org and welcomes comments at:  [email protected]. RFD drug/alcohol policy is available at https://qol-reno.org. Also see https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2014/06/22/reno-policy-allows-bac-firefighters/11178803/

This post is paid content and does not represent the views of ThisisReno. Want to promote your business, event, or issue? Consider a sponsored post.


Al Smith August 24, 2019 - 11:59 pm

Mr. White, first I’d like to congratulate you on a good-faith effort to make your faux-media site relevant! Even if you did have to pay someone to publish your opinion. Are you aware that this policy in particular is geared towards disciplining drug and alcohol abuse as well as providing resources to addicted individuals? This is not the only policy regarding drug and alcohol usage while working. As city employees, firefighters are held to policies of NDOT, which you’ll find are quite strict, if you bother to read them. This is not the crisis that you make it out to be, no matter how much enjoyment you get from wasting the time of our City Council and our first responders.

Paul D. White August 25, 2019 - 8:19 pm

Good try, Al, to make an insanely dangerous, and state/federal illegal drug/alcohol policy that NO other public safety agency has in their contract sound like “normal.” What’s YOUR angle; why would you fight FOR the right of RFD firefighters to use coke, heroin, meth, marijuana, opioids, and alcohol on the job with no consequences?
The contract provision is nothing but a community-endangering, residual power play from the RFD Union, that shoved it down the Council’s throat years ago, and the Council won’t stand up and do their job. If NDOT has the same drug policy, why don’t you post the links and let the public compare? Obvious reason: they DON’T. The embarrassing- and telling thing is that not ONE RFD firefighter (or Council member, or the Fire Chief, or judge, or city attorney, or other public safety workers, etc., for that matter), has had the moral courage to stand up and say “This contract policy is morally – as well as legally wrong and needs to change.” All your excuses (including your analyzing about what the policy is really MEANT to say), are just that…lame attempts to cover up a large, costly, and important agency that is long overdue for outside oversight and supervision…JUST like Reno cops deal with every day.

Steve Clark August 27, 2019 - 7:05 am

Again, Paul, I must remind you, the Drug and Alcohol policy is not a part of the Firefighters’ labor contract. It is an administrative policy that was mutually agreed upon by all parties concerned. There was no shoving of anything down anyone’s throat, and it does not allow intoxicated personnel, either actual or suspicioned, to be on duty at any time. Your interpretation is utterly and completely wrong. In classic Brandhorstian style, you have created a problem that exists simply in your own mind and the minds of those who follow and support your inflammatory rantings. I implore you to find a better windmill at which to tilt. The further you attempt to pursue this topic, the further from credibility you will find yourself. The “tragic joke” is not within the RFD, but rather lies somewhere at the heart of QOL.

Paul D. W/hite August 21, 2019 - 8:27 pm

If you’re right, Steve, why does every other public safety agency disagree with it , have drug/alcohol policies that are nothing like it, and think RFD’s policy is a tragic joke? Is EVERYONE wrong but you?

Steve Clark August 22, 2019 - 4:37 pm

I’ve never heard or read any comments from any other agencies, including RPD, so at this point, your claims are utterly unsubstantiated. Again, there has never been a single recorded issue with regard to the RFD policy allowing intoxicated firefighters to remain on duty or escape discipline, which you have so wrongly interpreted. Perhaps that explains why no one in City Hall is willing to give you an audience. You seem to be desperately trying to identify a problem where one simply doesn’t exist. This is a public policy mirage, which continues to beg the question as to why you are so vehemently trying to convince people what you see is real. What, or better yet, who is motivating you?

Paul D. White August 21, 2019 - 4:55 pm

Steve (and anyone else) –
Of course the RFD drug policy is not printed in RFD’s online contract, BECAUSE YOUR UNION AND LEADERSHIP DON’T WANT YOU OR THE PUBLIC TO SEE THAT. A photocopy of the signed, official RFD “Drug/Alcohol policy that has been in effect since 2002, is linked on our QOL-Reno.org website, or here’s the link:

Steve Clark August 21, 2019 - 7:53 pm

You seem to be implying there is a conspiracy afoot. The policy you provided is no more a secret than the RFD’s mission statement. If you read through with an unbiased eye, you would see the policy is not one of tolerance, but of quite the opposite. Though rehabilitating the employee is the ultimate goal, there is absolutely no provision which allows for an employee even suspicioned of being under the influence to remain on duty, and the Department’s history with this issue has been irreproachable. Any claim to the contrary is slanderous. Your interpretation of the policy and to this long-settled issue is obviously agenda-driven, and calls into question your true motivations.

Paul D. White August 21, 2019 - 12:08 pm

Read the contract, Steve. It says that RFD is pro sobriety, and then you forgot to mention the contract’s list of illegal drugs a firefighter can be under the influence of at up to 5X the DUI limit (inc. heroin, coke, meth, weed, opiods, etc.), and the regulations for trying to test someone who is suspect would take days (in other words, long enough to not test positive). Best of all, the contract provides no punishment for those found using, but provides possible termination for firefighters who report them. NO other public safety department has this ridiculous clause, and departments that know about it think that that RFD is a joke for arguing FOR it. You’ve been unsupervised WAY too long.

Steve Clark August 21, 2019 - 3:11 pm

Mr. White, there is NO LANGUAGE regarding the RFD Drug and Alcohol policy in the firefighters Labor Contract. Your claims are patently FALSE.

Steve Clark August 21, 2019 - 3:22 pm

Mr. White, et al., for your edification… https://www.reno.gov/home/showdocument?id=68823

David R Essaff August 21, 2019 - 10:53 am

I understand the concern whereas in many volunteer fire departments across the country the person driving the equipment may have had to rush out of a party to put out a fire and that can be dangerous. I’m not sure how the internal procedures work with full time paid firemen but I imagine they have safety as top priority. The City Manager is wise not making any statements during a contract negotiation. It’s like asking a poker player to display his cards.

Steve Clark August 21, 2019 - 10:09 am

Mr. White is wholly incorrect, to the point of grandiose prevarication. The first section of the RFD Drug and Alcohol policy, 102.08.05A reads as follows:

Section 1. Policy: The City of Reno Fire Department and the Reno Fire Fighters, Local 731, IAFF, recognize that drug use by employees would be a threat to the public welfare and the safety of department personnel. It is the goal of this policy to eliminate illegal drug usage and absolve the affected personnel through education and rehabilitation. The possession, use or being under the influence of alcoholic beverages or unauthorized drugs shall not be permitted at Reno Fire Department work sites and/or while an employee is on duty. The City of Reno Fire Department and the Reno Fire Fighters, Local 731, IAFF, strongly support and endorse pre-employment drug screening as part of the hiring process. Pre-employment screening will insure drug fee candidates for employment and this policy and procedure is intended to secure a drug/alcohol free work place during employment with the City of Reno.

The remainder of the policy details how employees suspicioned of drug/alcohol use while on duty are to be tested, disciplined and rehabilitated. How Mr. White gets anything but the idea that ZERO TOLERANCE is the attitude toward drugs and alcohol use at the Reno Fire Department should call into question his own lucidity. If Cervantes were alive today, I think he would have a perfect subject on which to base a sequel to his most famous work of fiction.

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