Reno policy lets firefighters with alcohol, drugs in system

An alcohol level less than 0.08 is not considered positive under policy; chief and union say policy is no problem.

RENO, Nev. — Under a 12-year-old policy negotiated by the city and fire union, it’s OK if firefighters show up to work with drugs and alcohol in their system.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that firefighters can show up on duty with up to a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level, the typical limit for determining if a motorist is impaired. It also allows more than twice the legal limit of a variety of illegal drugs in their system.

The policy, which dates back to 2002, cannot be changed unless it goes through the collective bargaining process. However, neither the fire chief nor the president of Reno Firefighters Local 731 believes it’s a high enough priority to change, according to the report.

“The policy seems to work,” union president Dennis Jacobsen said. “If you could show me eight or nine occurrences where you’ve proven the policy is inadequate, then absolutely we would sit down with the city. But I don’t want to try and fix something that is so rarely used.”

Fire Chief Michael Hernandez echoed that sentiment.

“What I’m sensing is you’re trying to make an issue out of something that really isn’t an issue,” Chief Hernandez said. “Granted it’s a higher threshold, but does that mean firefighters are coming to work drunk? No.”

Union President Jacobsen said he’s aware of only one instance of a positive test and the firefighter received the proper rehabilitation, according to the report.

“I didn’t write the policy,” Chief Hernandez said. “It’s one that I inherited and the one I have to work under.”

Reno City Manager Andrew Clinger, who was unaware of the high threshold for drug and alcohol use at the fire department, said the current policy is unacceptable.

“We have employees who are of high moral character and I don’t think we have people out there somehow abusing the system,” Clinger said. “But these are our first responders. These are our public safety employees. Why should there be any level (of alcohol or drugs) that is OK?”

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