Seattle fire chief finally speaks on firefighters driving department vehicles after DUI convictions

Nov 18, 2014, 1:00 PM | Updated: 5:18 pm
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The Seattle Fire Department says it’s reviewing its policies after a Dori Monson Show investigation and follow-up by KIRO TV determined members of the staff were driving department vehicles, despite the fact that DUI convictions required they blow into an ignition interlock device on their personal vehicles.

The Dori Monson Show first covered this story back in May when a listener informed Dori of a firefighter who was required to drive his own car with an ignition interlock device, but was allowed to drive fire trucks without one.

Since the initial Dori Monson Show investigation, KIRO 7 has learned that there are actually four members of staff at the Seattle Fire Department that have ignition interlock devices on their personal vehicles.

The report with these findings from KIRO 7 was released on Monday. On the same day, the Seattle Fire Department posted the following regarding their policy and the pending review:

Safety is a top priority for the Seattle Fire Department. The Department has a zero tolerance policy on the use of drugs and/or alcohol while on duty. In addition, the fire company officer conducts a daily “fit for duty” check of all firefighters at the beginning of each shift. The fire company officer looks for any signs of impairment that could potentially prohibit a firefighter from performing his or her duties.

We evaluate off-shift conduct on a case-by-case basis when determining whether to place any restrictions on a member’s work duties, including driving. The Department is in the process of reviewing and updating its policies related to members with driving-related offenses or arrests to ensure that we maintain our goal of keeping the public and our firefighters safe.

KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon joined The Dori Monson Show to go over in detail what they uncovered in their five-month investigation.

She told Monson that in the case of three of the four firefighters with ignition interlock devices on their personal vehicles, there were “huge delays” when it came to restricting their driving privileges at the department.

“For one of them, they were able to drive for two months after installing it on their personal vehicle. For another one, it was more than four years,” she said.

Sheldon told Monson department policy requires employees promptly notify them of any change in their driving status, which an ignition interlock device being installed is, according to the Department of Licensing.

“They also told me that the department checks twice a year on drivers license statuses to make sure they can be driving,” Sheldon said.

Her report for KIRO 7 indicates that once the department becomes aware of such changes in license status, those staff members are relieved of driving responsibilities.

But KIRO Radio and KIRO 7 both had questions about the apparent delay in these workers being removed from department vehicles after their DUI convictions required they use an ignition interlock device.

Back in May, the department refused to come on The Dori Monson Show for an interview, but did provide written answers to questions via email. Sheldon said KIRO 7 had similar difficulties getting an interview with Fire Department Chief Gregory Dean.

“We actually had to go through the mayor’s office,” Sheldon said. “They were kind enough to reach out to the fire department because the fire department had refused all interviews. So we reached out to the mayor’s office and they set it up.”

It took five months of requests to finally secure the interview with the chief, Sheldon said. Monson calls that kind of delay “reprehensible.”

“This was a legitimate public safety concern and the Seattle Fire Department decided to just ignore legitimate inquiries,” Monson said. “That is a massive failure of their public information department, to the point where I find it reprehensible. I found it reprehensible then [in May] and hearing the hoops you had to jump through.”

When Sheldon did finally have a chance to interview the chief, he wouldn’t talk about the specific workers in question, but he was willing to talk about the apparent gaps in the policy.

“Chief, it looks like the policy is failing. Would you agree?” Sheldon asked Dean.

“What I would say is this: the department has a policy,” Dean said. “You have an example where … someone fell through the cracks on the policy.”

When asked how these cases slipped by the department’s policy and the inspections of driving status the department reports they complete twice a year, Dean couldn’t provide a specific explanation.

“I don’t know why we missed it or what it said. But if that’s what happened, that’s what happened. I can’t answer why it happened.”

Bottom line, Dean acknowledged some lapses in the current policy.

“We’re reviewing the policy to ensure that no one gets to fall through the cracks going forward. That’s really what the goal is here.”

According to Sheldon’s information, the four firefighters covered in the report have not been disciplined.

But Chief Dean said if members of the department are found to have a change in driving status and are not reporting it, “Then they will be held accountable for not notifying us in a timely fashion of the change in their driving status.”

Dori Monson on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
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Seattle fire chief finally speaks on firefighters driving department vehicles after DUI convictions