Is convicted repeat drunk driver behind wheel of Seattle fire trucks?

May 29, 2014, 2:01 PM | Updated: 3:07 pm
KIRO Radio has learned a Seattle firefighter arrested multiple times for DUI and required to drive ...
KIRO Radio has learned a Seattle firefighter arrested multiple times for DUI and required to drive with ignition interlock is not being prevented from driving Seattle fire trucks. (Photo: Creative Commons/Loco Steve)
(Photo: Creative Commons/Loco Steve)
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Is the Seattle Fire Department putting dangerous drivers on city streets? That’s the question Dori Monson wants answered after learning a firefighter who regularly drives fire trucks has been arrested multiple times for driving under the influence.

A listener first informed Dori the firefighter is required to drive his own car with an ignition interlock device, but is allowed to drive fire trucks without one.

“I find it reprehensible that somebody who is required to have an ignition interlock on their personal car could still get behind the wheel of a Seattle fire truck and drive on the streets of Seattle at high speeds, sirens blaring without the same precaution,” Dori says.

The Seattle Fire Department refused multiple requests for an interview. Spokesman Kyle Moore provided written responses to questions from KIRO Radio, confirming that it is aware Joseph A. Dempsey, 47, has been arrested for DUI and faces charges for a pending case. But he would not discuss any further details about the case.

“Firefighter Joseph Dempsey informed the Department of his arrest and charges, which occurred while he was off-duty. Firefighter Dempsey is currently an active member of the Department and has been employed since January 1997. He maintains a current valid driver’s license which is a requirement to operate a fire apparatus. The Department will continue to monitor his status…No disciplinary action has been taken in this case because Firefighter Dempsey has followed all of the Department policies and guidelines and the incident occurred while he was off-duty.”

According to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Dempsey has been arrested three separate times for suspicion of DUI. Dempsey, who was hired by the Seattle Fire Department in January, 1997, was most recently arrested for DUI March 29, 2014.

While the city asked for $50,000 bail in the latest case, based on his two known prior arrests, a judge released him on $25,000 bail. He has been ordered to drive with an ignition interlock device pending the outcome of the case.

Dempsey was also previously arrested for DUI in a case ultimately amended to first degree negligent driving in 1994 in Shoreline, and was arrested in 2012 for DUI in a case pleaded down to reckless driving in 2012 in King County District Court, according to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

If convicted of this latest DUI, Dempsey faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 days in jail and then 90 days of electronic home monitoring, a fine of $1,620.50, and a requirement to drive with an ignition interlock device for 10 years.

“You know, I love our firefighters but I will not rest when it comes to issues of public safety,” Dori says. “This is a story we are breaking today and I find the response from the Seattle Fire Department, thus far, to be reprehensible in not answering a very reasonable question about public safety.”

An attorney for Dempsey refused to respond to requests for comment.

Dori wonders if the firefighter could have an ongoing problem with alcohol that makes him a continued risk if he is indeed operating a fire truck.

“If you have a serious drinking problem, it’s possible that you drink on the job. And I think people who get multiple DUIs have serious drinking problems. It is certainly not inconceivable that that person would drink on the job. I’m not accusing this guy of drinking on the job. I simply don’t know,” Dori says.

In response, Moore provided the following statement:

“The Seattle Fire Department acknowledges that substance abuse is a serious and complex, but, treatable condition/disease that negatively affects the personal lives of employees, job safety, and the quality of firefighting work.”

“The SFD is committed to addressing the problems of substance abuse in order to ensure the safety of the working environment, employees and the public and to providing employees with access to necessary treatment and rehabilitation assistance through our Employee Assistance Program and Safe Call Now which is a registered non-profit corporation that will provide crisis intervention and referral services to public safety employees.”

Dori vows to continue pursuing the case, even if the SFD won’t talk further.

“Our question is extremely fair and relevant and important. And the fact that they think they cannot or will not answer our question, that it’s just going to go away, that’s not how it works.”

While the Seattle Fire Department will not comment specifically on its policy regarding operation of trucks by those mandated to drive with interlock, the state of Washington does allow employers to apply for exemptions for employees to drive without an interlock during work hours.

KIRO Radio’s Tim Haeck contributed to this report.

Dori Monson on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
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Is convicted repeat drunk driver behind wheel of Seattle fire trucks?