KJAM reports that fireman Scott Johnson got a DUI citation from a local cop who saw Scott Johnson at the fire call, suspected he might be drunk, followed as Scott Johnson drove the firetruck back to base, and gave Scott Johnson the breathalyzer.
Strangely, Chief Jerry Johnson offers this defense of fire department policy to require all available personnel to respond to fire calls:
By "available," certainly, uh, people are all volunteers, and, uh, they have, uh, they go out of town, they like to camp, they like to hunt, they like to fish, they go to football games, they go to basketball games, uh, they go out of town to other activities just like everybody. So when I say "available personnel," uh, I mean, uh, uh, you know, available personnel [Madison Fire Chief Jerry Johnson, interviewed on KJAM radio, 2010.09.08].
Now maybe KJAM just picked the wrong clip here. Maybe Chief Jerry Johnson has much more to say about fireman Scott Johnson's arrest and alleged drunkenness.
But Jerry, are you really trying to justify someone showing up drunk for work? Are you really saying intoxication doesn't somehow render someone unavailable for a fire call? Are you really trying to equate camping, hunting, fishing, and attending sporting events with getting drunk?
Oh, wait, this is Madison: maybe camping, hunting, fishing, and sports events really are synonymous with drinking.
It sounds to me as if the Chief Jerry Johnson is excusing irresponsible behavior by saying that our firemen are just volunteers who need to go have fun just like everybody else. And I would agree that firefighters, just like police and doctors and everybody else, do not sacrifice their right to rest and relaxation.
But I would assume that our volunteer firefighters would figure out some rational "on-call" regimen. I would assume that they would accept some responsibility to be totally available at certain times. I would assume they would not leave to hunt or fish or shop out of town without at least telling the chief they're going to leave the department short a man for a day or two.
And I would think someone who volunteers to fight fires and protect public safety would say, "You know what? I agreed to do a job. I can't do that job if I'm too drunk to drive. Ergo, I'd better not get drunk."
I honestly don't know what Chief Jerry Johnson was trying to say. But I hear in his radio clip an inkling of that very Madison attitude that getting drunk is just what we do, and it's no big deal.
Chief Jerry Johnson appears to miss the point that this is a big deal. There is never an excuse, policy or otherwise, for getting drunk... let alone driving our firetruck while so incapacitated. That Chief Jerry Johnson felt the need to say anything else defies common sense.
Update 10:11 CDT: Chief Jerry Johnson tells KELO, "I cannot and will not dictate to our firefighters how they spend their free-time, that is their choice." Bull, Jerry. You can certainly tell your volunteers they need to be ready and able to perform their duties at any time they're on call. You can tell them they can't break the law. You can tell them serving in your department means not endangering public safety by getting drunk and driving drunk.