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April 03, 2013
Some firefighters permitted to drink before duty

About 20 Chicago-area fire departments reportedly permit firefighters and paramedics to begin their shifts with alcohol in the bloodstream. An investigation by the Better Government Association (BGA) and NBC 5 found that in some cases, the limit is just below 0.08, the state’s legal definition of drunk. Motorists at or above that level can be charged with a crime and have their driving privileges revoked.

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Officials in municipalities with unionized departments said if they became aware that firefighters had been drinking they would send them home or limit them to desk duty. However, some maintain that the existing policies are necessary to allow for situations where off-duty first responders, who may have been consuming alcohol at home, are called in to assist in an emergency.

Law enforcement experts contacted by the BGA said allowing public safety personnel to work with any amount of alcohol in their systems is dangerous and could lead to impaired judgment. One consultant called it “the stupidest thing” he had ever heard. However, a prior BGA investigation found similar practices among police departments and other safety-sensitive positions. Following that investigation, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White proposed legislation mandating a zero-tolerance policy for first responders.

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