Council limits use of alcohol at fire hall

By Patrick Fisher, Staff Writer

The New Prague City Council recently brought to an end months of discussion as it approved an amendment to its personnel policy concerning the city's volunteer firefighters and intoxicating beverages.

Talks began in February between the council and members of the New Prague Volunteer Fire Department about the consumption of alcohol in the department's portion of the New Prague Emergency Service Center, at 505 Fifth Ave. There were also concerns about firefighters who might report for duty under the influence. Council members had concerns about liability, alcohol on city property and other matters.

Over the last few months, Mayor W.A. Bink Bender, New Prague City Administrator Mike Johnson, Fire Chief Jerry Novak, his two assistant chiefs and attorney Scott Riggs with the city's law firm Kennedy & Graven have met to work out a solution.

Johnson explained at the council's Monday, Aug. 16, meeting those talks were difficult as they had to address liability, legal and insurance issues as well as the reality of attempting to employ part-time volunteers.

Three options came out of the discussions:

• Leave things as is;

• Adopt the city's zero tolerance policy toward the firefighters with no consumption of alcohol on city property and reporting free of alcohol;

• Or amend the policy to allow seven exceptions of alcohol at the fire hall and incorporate the fire department's procedure of responding to a call.

Mayor Bender noted since 100 percent of the fire department's members are volunteers they are basically on call 100 percent of the time. If the council were to apply the city's zero tolerance policy to the firefighters, they would never be able to have a drink.

The seven events when the council may authorize alcohol to be allowed at the fire hall are the fire department's election night, after the firemen's breakfast, the annual Rural Fire Board Meeting, the dance and mailing event, the retired firefighters supper, the annual Employer Appreciation Fish Fry and the Rural Fire Board Appreciation Dinner.

The department's policy for individual firefighters concerning alcohol is that a person will judge their ability to be 100 percent effective in their role. Based on their personal assessment they will choose three options:

• Respond to the call and immediately inform the Fire Officer in Charge of any alcohol or drug use;

• Should a firefighter determine he or she is not able to perform their duty, but can still take care of non-critical duties, they shall respond and immediately inform the Fire Officer in Charge of their limited functional abilities;

• Not respond to the call.

The Fire Officer in Charge has the authority and ultimate responsibility for judging the effectiveness of each firefighter. Also, fellow firefighters who observe any indication that a member is not able to perform his/her duties are responsible for notifying the Fire Officer in Charge.

Under the new policy, firefighters will no longer be allowed to consume alcoholic beverages at the fire hall in the hours after having responded to a call.

Fire Chief Novak said the group had put a lot of hours into the issue and he thought it was something workable.

Bender agreed, adding It has been a challenge at times

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