Fire­fighter con­tract in­cludes drug tests

Tampa Bay Times - - Remembering - BY CHRISTO­PHER O’DON­NELL Times Staff Writer Con­tact Christo­pher O’Don­nell at codon­nell@tam­ or (813) 226-3446. Fol­low

TAMPA — Hills­bor­ough County fire­fight­ers and paramedics will be sub­ject to ran­dom drug test­ing for the first time un­der a new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment ap­proved this week by the County Com­mis­sion.

The con­tract, which has been rat­i­fied by the lo­cal fire­fight­ers union, re­quires the test­ing of five em­ploy­ees se­lected at ran­dom every two weeks. But the test will not de­tect the pres­ence of al­co­hol, as is com­monly done in larger fire de­part­ments.

It comes af­ter a Tampa Bay Times in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Fe­bru­ary re­vealed dozens of drug and al­co­hol in­ci­dents among Hills­bor­ough County Fire Res­cue em­ploy­ees who knew that they were only re­quired to sub­mit a urine sam­ple in ei­ther Jan­uary or July.

One para­medic died of a drug over­dose. An­other stole mor­phine from a truck and re­placed it with salt­wa­ter. And a fire­fighter in­ves­ti­gated af­ter his son’s death had ma­te­ri­als to evade a drug test in his home.

In the wake of the Times re­port, county com­mis­sion­ers called for stricter test­ing and im­proved men­tal health ser­vices for first re­spon­ders.

Todd Car­nell, per­son­nel chief for Hills­bor­ough County Fire Res­cue, said the omis­sion of al­co­hol test­ing was agreed to in bar­gain­ing talks with the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fire Fight­ers Lo­cal 2294.

“Our con­cern was the ran­dom drug test­ing and feel­ing that it was prob­a­bly harder to de­tect some­one us­ing some drugs than it is to de­tect some­one im­paired from al­co­hol,” he said.

Union Pres­i­dent Der­rik Ryan said his mem­bers rat­i­fied the agree­ment in a vote last week. The drug test­ing re­quire­ment raised few ob­jec­tions, Ryan said, be­cause Hills­bor­ough County agreed to re­quire that top depart­ment ad­min­is­tra­tors un­dergo the ex­ams, as well.

“Our is­sue was when we re­quested man­age­ment do it with us, they re­fused,” he said. “We have an agree­ment fol­lowed up in writ­ing from the county at­tor­ney’s of­fice they will do a true ran­dom test like ours.”

Em­ploy­ees who fail a test are re­quired to en­ter a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram. A sec­ond fail­ure would re­sult in ter­mi­na­tion.

The agree­ment also awards em­ploy­ees an 18 per­cent pay raise over three years. That in­cludes a 7 per­cent in­crease this fiscal year, which runs through Septem­ber.

Other de­tails of the agree­ment in­clude an in­crease in the min­i­mum work time to 1,728 hours an­nu­ally; 240 hours of paid parental leave for the birth, adop­tion and fos­ter­ing of a child; and a health in­cen­tive pro­gram that, if fol­lowed, re­duces in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums by $600 per year.

Hills­bor­ough County Fire Res­cue has roughly 1,200 em­ploy­ees in 44 sta­tions serv­ing the county’s un­in­cor­po­rated com­mu­ni­ties.

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