We Cannot Be in Society’s Mainstream

We Cannot Be in Society’s Mainstream



In our June 1984 issue, FIRE ENGINEERING presented a feature on alcohol and drug use in the fire service. We presented it to the uninitiated as an overview of the horror and extent of drug use in emergency services. The hope was that officers and brother firefighters may more easily recognize the fact of abuse—and perhaps the abuser.

The fire service has taken a rehabilitation approach to the chemical dependency of its employees/members. The statistical results of such programs within various departments show a 60% to 95% positive result.

Fine. So why this editorial?

Recently, we attended a seminar on the east coast. One of the guest speakers, a well-known psychologist, addressed the subject of stress and the fire service. It was well attended, and the audience enthusiastically participated.

Questions abounded. Generation gaps of superiors and subordinates were explained. The shock came when a few chiefs addressed the drug problem within their individual departments.

“You have to understand that drugs are a part of the culture from which the new breed of firefighters comes,” the psychologist said. Most heads, though somber, nodded in agreement.


The fire service is a unique profession, with unique responsibilities; and this is one area of the fire service where we must not tolerate an easing of

discipline or rule enforcement.

The use of drugs by emergency service personnel is a heinous breach of trust, both with the public we endeavor to protect and with those whose lives may be more directly at stake by the abuser’s actions in emergency situations—our brother firefighters.

The drug user, within the close-knit social order that the fire unit represents, brings with him a myriad of additional problems. Personality clashes, inefficiency, insubordination, injury increase, absenteeism, theft, and even physical confrontations are only some of drugs’ side effects in firehouse society.

It is up to the emergency service to formulate a strict but fair policy on drug use and abuse and stick to it. Paid departments may be well defined and universal in their enforcement of basic rules relating to drugs. Volunteer units however, may have to be more innovative in their policy setting, but must be unwavering in its enforcement.

Problems associated with alcohol abuse, while just as serious, are more easily detected and dealt with. Other than arriving drunk for duty, the abuser will often give a slow indication of his behavior changes. The drug abuser “pops one pill” and blasts immediately from an efficient emergency team member to a useless, dependent burden on the firefighting structure.

Yes, drug use is a part of society, but it cannot be a part of society’s protectors. We must be above the mainstream. We need all the faculties available to us, as a team, to be able to keep our heads when all about us are losing theirs. To bring order to chaos is our goal on arrival—-not before or during our response.

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