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May27, 2003 
D.U.I.??? FIREFIGHTERS U.I.?? 
.........This ain't nuth'n new........ 
Chief Billy Goldfeder
WithTheCommand.Com
By now, you have probably read about the 16 year old female Newcastle (WY) Fire Explorer that was tragically killed Thursday evening when the water tender she was riding in rolled over and pinned her underneath, as they were responding to a fire. Naturally, the incident is still under investigation. The 
firefighter who was driving the tanker has been arrested on charges of Driving Under the Influence. My comments below are triggered from this story. My comments are based upon first hand knowledge of similar problems...this ain't nuth'n new. 

I am writing this while being extremely sensitive......not as much to the people who have drinking problems (or drug problems) but to those who have to work with, live with or deal with those that have the problem....and feel frustrated, lost, afraid and knowing that "one of these days" something is going to happen. Like in Wyoming. Those of you who know me, know I am pretty straight when it come to drinking and drugs. Actually, I have been buzzed about 3 times in my life-total....not driving but drinking what my kid calls "foo-foo" drinks. Yeah-exciting guy, huh....but please don't take these comments as coming from one who isn't close to the problem. 

The issue that stands out is that some members were quoted saying "we knew he had a problem" and like many obvious issues-people are very naturally afraid to confront it. Trust me-thats an understandable excuse as people just don't 
wanna get involved as it may not pay off...it happened to me a few times...I have confronted a few over the years-offering a "doorway" to help solve their problem...typically through EAP....there was even one employee w/a major drinking problem a few years ago who I (we) tried to assist and it bit me in the butt-real hard. Would I do it again? You betcha..but it sucks. Did my actions do any good. Nope. Our old friend "denial" reigned and all reports are that the problem continues-on duty...as no one at any rank wants to confront the issue....sometimes even the EAP folks are clueless. You won't see any problems when ya ain't look'n. 

There's nothing harder than helping an addict who won't help themself. Confronting someone with a dependency issue is incredibly difficult. Confronting someone in an atmosphere of "good old fun'loving boys'n girls" (read: our fire service) is near impossible and occurs at great risk to all involved. Everyone knows it's an issue-but no one takes it on for fear of bs such as retaliation, not being liked, being targeted or related issues. Sometimes it's just easier to let "someone else worry about it...after all, it probably won't effect me"...yet. 

I also grew up w/a Dad (who passed away a few years ago, who I loved dearly and miss terribly) who drank heavily most of my young and early mid-life. After years of some pretty bad experiences, I made the mistake of talking to his Physician about it (when I was in my early 20')-and boy oh boy-did I pay for that!! My Dad went nuts and made it clear that he did not have a problem...and it was none of my (or anyone else's) business. This was after years of watching him do stuff that drunks do...including hundreds of attempts to drive.....hell, some day's walking was a challenge. I also have some other relatives with extremely serious related issues. Although I have never had to face these issues personally-I have had some very close loved ones and friends that have. 

I also "grew up" in a few firehouses 20+ years ago where this was a normal daily activity. I remember riding with many a firefighter and/or officer who were absolutely trashed, one with his can of "Busch" beer right up there next to the siren box....another who mistook a tree for his house-and tried putting his key into the tree-to get in the "front" door....another who was driving at night-was told his lights weren't on-and promptly put on the wipers, yelling happily "thanks Billy"...and drove off-still no lights but wipers wiping like hell. I have dozens more of those kind of stories-probably like you. Of course, 
back then, no one thought anything was wrong. Back then-it was comic relief. Times have changed....sorta. 

This piece I am writing is not about slamming the Newcastle Fire Dept for not dealing with it....someone else can do that. Besides, they are suffering pretty badly....but so are the folks of that little girl. On one hand, this commentary is not about blaming anyone. This is a real, real tough issue. On the other hand, an aspiring firefighter is dead due to a fully predictable problem. I am writing this since I figure numerous people are out there saying "yeah-it could happen here too at our FD since ____ has a similar problem." People who have a dependency problem do not think rationally. Someone said to me 
yesterday, the next time someone thinks about getting on a fire truck when their blood alcohol limit is probably higher than that of the legal limit for influence or intoxication ...they need to think again. 

That's the whole problem. They can't. They CANNOT. If they could, they wouldn't do what they are doing. They are UNDER the INFLUENCE. 

So what's the answer? Well-it's a big problem and I don't have the answer for any one specific situation, but I do have a few suggestions on what "those who are not under the influence-can do about those who are under the influence"...with the least amount of personal and professional risk-but while also avoiding another death. 

I went to GOOGLE.com and searched "Helping an Alcoholic" , "Helping a Drunk" and a few other related words.....and came up with a few items that might help. Below is just one of the items I found. Again, the purpose of me writing this today is the fact that, like me, I figured there are a few out there that have to deal with the issue...of dealing with people who have dependency problems...and aren't sure where to look. I will tellya one thing-don't try fixing the person(s) you know with the problem yourself-odd's are it won't work. Try some of the agencies you find on the search-they can help you-or contact your 
own local EAP type agency-and if they are clueless, try another group. Just keep trying and never give up...in spite of the obstacles. Maybe if you have some suggestions-you can post them on some of the various fire service FORUMS. 
Odd's are-someone can benefit from your experience. 

And if you are a witness to it starting to happen, such as someone responding to a run who shouldn't...stop it. Call a boss...shut off the apparatus....close the door....even call the cops as a last resort if ya have to...call someone. Just stop it. No-it ain't easy-this is the part of "courage" that isn't perceived as heroic or "glamorous."... Stop it anyway. "But we have to go on the run and he's our ONLY apparatus driver"...don't go. Call out of service. Another company will pick up your run for ya. Stop the immediate problem. 

The goal is simply to minimize the opportunity for anyone being injured or killed due to a firefighter under the influence .....D.U.I. is bad enough...responding Firefighters Under The Influence really sucks. 

As always, our hearts and deepest thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Fire Cadet Andee Huber, as well as the Officers and Members of the Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department....as well as to those who have to deal with this 
kind of issue either personally-or with someone they care about. 

How Can I Assist Someone I Care About...that has a dependency problem? 
(Courtesy of A.A.) 

1. By offering to help the sick alcoholic to get in touch with A.A. through  the telephone listing or other means available, explaining that this will entail no obligation to become a member. Give them local A.A. and Al-Anon phone numbers. 

2. By offering to attend A.A. open meetings with the alcoholic for informational reasons. They are welcome. 

3. By explaining to individuals that only they themselves know whether they  are really alcoholics and suggesting a talk with someone from A.A. to help clarify the problem. 

4. By talking to the sick alcoholic always in terms of suggestion, avoiding threats or duress, since the decision must and can be made only by the alcoholics themselves. 

5. By acquiring a better personal understanding of A.A. through attending some A.A. open meetings and reading A.A. literature, including the book Alcoholics Anonymous.  It can be explained that the Big Book is generally accepted as 
A.A.'s basic text, first published in 1939, issued in a second edition in 1955 and a third in 1976, and available for purchase at most local groups or on direct order from the General Service Office, Box 459, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163.

6. By passing the book and other A.A. literature along to the sick alcoholic, as interesting and worthwhile reading matter.

7. By using their influence in the community to help other nonalcoholics toward a better comprehension of the problems and needs of the alcoholic and of the help that is avalilable in A.A. 

8. By calling A.A. anytime they can be of help.