After drivers in Washington are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), they may be required to instal an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicles. However, some Seattle firefighters arrested for DUIs were allowed to continue driving Seattle Fire Department vehicles for months after their arrest.
The story first broke on local news, when a listener reported a situation where a firefighter who was required to drive his own personal car with an IID installed after a DUI, but was allowed to drive fire trucks without an IID. KIRO 7 did further investigation, and discovered other Seattle firefighters also driving fire vehicles after a DUI.
One fill-in driver, Linda Wells, was convicted of of two DUIs, including one where her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was measured at higher than 0.24 percent, three times the state legal limit. The court required Wells to install an IID, and to remain in her car for 10 years. However, Seattle Fire Department allowed Wells to continue driving for the department for more than four years.
Another incident concerned paramedic Teroi Trotman who was arrested for a DUI in 2010, and had a court ordered IID installed in November 2013. However, Trotman's driving privileges were not suspended until six months later, in June of 2014. Another department driver, Joseph Dempsey has allegedly had four DUI arrests. After installing an IID on April 4th of this year, he continued to drive for two more months.
KIRO reported that initially, Fire Chief Gregory Dean refused interviews, and only agreed after reaching out to the office of Mayor Ed Murray. The mayor's office arranged an interview with Fire Chief Dean. In response, Dean said, “this department have a policy. You have an example where someone fell through the cracks on the policy.”
The Seattle Fire Department's Public Information Office has stated that their policy is that, “employees must promptly notify the department through the chain of command of any change in driver's license status.” This would include a court-ordered IID. After learning of a DUI, Dean said those members of the department get removed from their driving jobs. Additionally, the department allegedly checks the driving records of employees twice a year to determine whether they are able to drive.
According to Fire Chief Dean, he is confident they drove safely. Each fire company officer conducts a daily “fit for duty” check of all firefighters at the beginning of each shift, to include looking for signs of impairment. However, he admits he does not know whether the failure is a result of the department, or failure of the employees to report their license status. He said they are looking to correct lapses in their police. However, he did not know how many other firefighters or drivers “fell through the cracks,” over the years.
Meanwhile, the mayor's office issued a statement that there were no known accidents caused by on-duty firefighters who might have been impaired. According to Mayor Murray, “the department needs to know immediately about any firefighters change of driving status.” Although Chief Dean has indicated he planned to retire at the end of 2014. “While this chief's review may not be complete before he retires at the end of the year, I will expect the next chief to continue this work,” said the mayor.