There was a bit of a stir in old Beantown last week. Back in August, a fire in a restaurant killed two firefighters. Last week, details of the autopsies were leaked to the press — and it turns out that one of the men was legally drunk at the time of death, while the other had traces of cocaine and marijuana in his system.
The union is demanding a criminal investigation into the leak, and even got a judge to briefly stop a TV station from airing the reports.
This story brings up a whole host of issues. First up is the whole issue of prior restraint, and I think the judge was utterly wrong in stopping the report from airing. Such actions should be very, very rare, and for very, very extenuating circumstances — and “saving the families more pain and embarrassment” are vastly outweighed by the public good served.
And just what is the public good being served here? Well, for starters, I don’t think that the traces of drugs should have been released. I don’t care for drug testing as a general rule, and as long as it doesn’t affect one’s work, it should not be the business of the employer — any employer — what the employee does off the clock.
But the firefighter who was apparently legally intoxicated (the toxicology screening indicated he had a blood alcohol level of .27, more than three times the legal limit for driving) while fighting the fire… that’s another story. This guy was so hammered that he should have been falling-down drunk, yet his colleagues either didn’t notice or chose not to notice that fact and let him go into that fire anyway.
Firefighters, like police officers, are charged with protecting the public safety. They are accorded great respect and trust — and this is a betrayal of that trust.
We need to know that we can trust these men and women. We need to know that when we call 911, we won’t be summoning people drunk off their asses.
And the firefighters’ union would be better advised to put their energies not into this witch-hunt and trying to pull the curtain back across their member’s misdeeds, but instead on making damned sure that this never happens again. The leak merely wounded their pride — the circumstances that motivated the leak killed two of their brothers.
Humiliation and shame are seldom fatal. Drunk and inside a burning building (or even just drunk and behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle) quite often are.