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Friday, September 17, 2010

Fire Dept "Apology" for DUI Hits Wrong Notes

The Madison Police Department is maintaining an official "No comment" stance on the September 4 DUI arrest of volunteer fireman Scott Johnson, but the Madison Fire Department is not. Here is their Letter to the Editor from Tuesday's MDL:

We as the Madison Fire Department are writing this letter to express our concerns on the Sept. 4 issue with one of our fellow firefighters.

The city of Madison and surrounding area have received volunteer fire protection for at least 126 years at very little cost. We as firefighters are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We do not get weekends or holidays (Labor Day) off. We do not receive overtime pay or a paycheck for what we do.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 4, the madison Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to a fire call. Also dispatched was the Madison Police Department. While on the fire scene, a Madison police officer suspected one of our truck drivers had been drinking. Fire Department officers and fellow volunteers did not notice any unusual actions from this individual which would lead to the suspicion of alcohol.

The fire was determined to be a false alarm and all firemen and trucks were returned to the fire station.

After the fire truck was backed into the Fire Hall, two Madison police officers entered the building and arrested one of our fellow firefighters.

We, as concerned firefighters are asking: If this police officer suspected liquor or a substance abuse, why was this firefighter not confronted at the scene? Why was he (the fireman) allowed to drive the truck back to the Fire Hall?

We as firefighters have been instructed not to respond to a fire call if under the unfluence of liquor or other substances. Our Fire Department Constitution and Bylaws deal harshly with this circumstance.

But as volunteer firefighters, we make mistakes like everyone else. Being volunteer firemen, we are on call 24/7, but we still like to have our free time to relax and do what we like to do.

In this particular, unfortunate incident, this firefighter thought his fun time has depleted and felt he was capable of responding to the fire call. As the state of South Dakota now knows, a mistake in judgment was made on his part in the early morning hours of Sept. 4. We, as his fellow firefighters, have learned from his mistake and will monitor our free time more closely.

The Madison Volunteer Fire Department wants to apologize to the citizens of Madison and the surrounding area for any concerns this incident may have caused. We also want to assure our community that we are still the same dedicated, trained and ready to serve fire department that we have always been.

Members of Madison Volunteer Fire Dept.
Madison, Sept. 10
[published as a Letter to the Editor, Madison Daily Leader, 2010.09.14, p. 3]

I'll say this: apologies generally go over better if you just say, "I'm sorry," without shifting blame to others or making excuses for mistakes. Keep paragraphs 7, 9, and 10, and you've got a decent apology. Throw in the rest, and you have problems.

This letter is a remarkable breach of public protocol here, with one city department questioning the actions of another city department in the press. I'm trying to think of a good analogy... hmm... imagine what would happen if the English Department at MHS wrote a letter questioning the professionalism of the science department... or the football team.

The letter also presents an amusing legal conundrum. Through attorney Dan Brown, Scott Johnson pled not guilty yesterday, setting up a preliminary court hearing September 30. That plea might make us wonder just what "mistake in judgment" Johnson's letter-writing colleagues are talking about.

But the core issue here is Madison's wrong, wrong, wrong attitude toward alcohol and drunkenness. In this letter, our firefighters, rightful role models for our kids, perpetuate the all-too-Madison message that drunkenness is good fun to which everyone is entitled. And too many other Madisonites are backing that message in their excuses and blame-shifting.

I'm not asking you, Madison neighbors, to abstain completely. (Well, actually, I wouldn't mind if you did, but I know that's about as likely as my doing shots at Teezers Friday night.) Enjoy a good stout ale, a glass of decent wine. But help me tell our kids that drinking to intoxication is never, ever justifiable. Help me tell them that neither the most stressful day nor the dullest Friday night in Madison is good reason to get drunk.

Is that so much to ask?


  1. The firehouse should buy a breathalyzer tester. If a responder isn't sure then he can test himself before going on the call.

  2. I like your conclusion especially - we can't just tell kids about responsible action, we have to model it for them to make it real.

  3. Thanks, Tim. Morality is about action.

    And John, that may not be a bad idea. Aren't there some other quick tests you can get to check your blood alcohol level to double check whether you're sober enough to get behind the wheel?

  4. How about this one?



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