I have spoken with the Madison Police Department. (Note: none of the officers I have spoken with this summer appear to have been drinking.) Their official position on this matter: no comment. The matter is under adjudication, and it is not the police department's place to be arguing the case in public. Their duty binds them to stay out of the public fracas and not respond to the rumors and insults being flung their way.
Madison police have noticed some residents giving them a distinct cold shoulder since the fireman's DUI made the news. The men in blue have seen neighbors they've helped in the past year now decline to wave when they pass on the street.
Folks, in case you've forgotten, the police and the firemen are on the same team. They're all the folks who come save our skins when we're in trouble. They're all good people who make a commitment to sacrifice their time and leisure to protect us. And whether they are paid or not, they have a duty to remain fit for service, to obey the law, and, as public servants, to set a good example for our kids and the community. Men and women in either uniform are expected to uphold those clear standards. Men and women unwilling to do so need not apply.
No small contingent of my neighbors apparently disagree. The only public comment I've seen so far are two letters to the editor taking the fire department's side. The first comes from one of my favorite neighbors, Richard Wiedenman:
The Madison Fire Department is one of the most efficient departments in the state. Being a volunteer unit on call day or night, one shouldn't be critical of their off-duty activities. Mistakes can be made.
Let's hope they keep up the good work, as they have in the past, thanks to the volunteers.
— R.V. Wiedenman, Letter to the Editor, Madison Daily Leader, 2010.09.09, p. 3
Wiedenman is also to be praised for an efficient letter. My only response: Fireman Scott Johnson wasn't arrested for his off-duty activities. His citation happened while he was on duty. If you're too drunk to drive, you're too drunk to run firefighting equipment, and showing up for duty in that state warrants criticism.
(Of course, teetotaler that I am, I'll contend that we have every right to be critical of drinking to excess. There is no excuse for such irresponsibility, on duty or off. But that's a separate argument from the legitimacy of giving a fireman a DUI.)
Henry Hauck writes a bit more, and more bitingly:
The problem of volunteer firemen having alcohol on their breath is simple: Request the people with a fire to call in 24 hours prior to the volunteers coming. That would allow the volunteers to better schedule their life in order to volunteer.
We could also consider giving them a raise so they would no longer be a volunteer. Then we could demand specific behavior.
No, I do not condone drinking and driving at any time, but to allow a volunteer to drive to a fire after a few drinks and then allowing him to drive back so he could be given a ticket is not right.
I hope that the police person does not have a house fire because maybe all the volunteer fire persons may go to the hospital for a blood alcohol test prior to responding. I suggest that.
Folks, if I have a fire, please come as you are!
—Henry Hauck, Letter to the Editor, Madison Daily Leader, 2010.09.10, p. 3
Hauck's letter gets ugly. He goes beyond Wiedenman's simple request that we stay out of people's personal lives and respect the work they do for the community. Hauck starts threatening police officers with retribution. Hauck's is the sort of illogical snideness that makes our community look bad.
Hauck says he doesn't condone drinking and driving at any time. Unfortunately, he proves he's just saying that as a rhetorical ploy. He shows he doesn't really believe that by urging firefighters to drive drunk to his house if there's a fire. Sure, great idea, Mr. Hauck: and perhaps as they weave their way to save your house, they can kill a few innocent motorists or pedestrians along the way?
By the way, just to be clear: firemen, police, EMTs, Search & Rescue, if I have an emergency, don't drive drunk to get here. Better yet, don't get drunk in the first place. Thank you.
Hauck also fails to understand the idea of duty. Hauck apparently believes a petty personal grudge, based on resentment at another public servant performing his duty, warrants not carrying out one's own duty.
But who cares about law or duty or personal responsibility, right? We're Madison firefighters! We win trophies! We deserve to get drunk whenever we want, right? And if you torque us off, we don't have to come put out your fire! (Oops: my fire insurance premium just doubled.)
I don't hear any firemen saying that, but Hauck's letter exhibits the ugly entitlement mentality I'm hearing from too many of my neighbors. There appears to be a sense that since the firemen volunteer for this work, they are entitled to drink and do whatever else they want without criticism or accountability... and that they are entitled to pick and choose which members of the public they serve.
Hauck and too many other Madisonites appear to miss the point. Volunteering to fight fires or serve the public in any other capacity does not entitle you to special treatment. It actually binds you to a higher standard of conduct. you have to stay fit, physically and mentally. You have to be ready to serve (and serve anyone) at a moment's notice. No one forces you to be a firefighter. Public service is your choice... and choices have consequences. Choose to serve, and you accept a duty. Choose to drink and drive, and you accept the judgment of the law when you're caught. It's that simple.
Update 17:10 CDT: And in other news, Governor M. Michael Rounds has declared September Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month in South Dakota.