New policy will suspend New Britain firefighters without pay, require rehab if they test positive for drugs

Published on Monday, 11 July 2022 16:46
Written by Erica Drzewiecki

@drzewieckinbh

NEW BRITAIN – Firefighters will be suspended without pay and required to complete rehabilitation if they test positive for drug use, according to a new policy set by New Britain Fire Union Local 992 in conjunction with the city.

“All employees and applicants of the fire department are going to be asked to comply with this policy as a condition of their employment,” Mayor Erin Stewart told the Herald. “For those who fail to cooperate fully the fire department and the city will take action to deal with the situation. The main goal is to ensure the fire department is functioning safely, efficiently and cost-effectively,”

This comes after the January death of 36-year-old New Britain firefighter Matthew Dizney and the discovery of illegal drug use within the department. One firefighter was fired and seven were demoted and put on probation for three years, following an investigation revealing abuse of the prescription Adderall as well as Fentanyl, heroin and marijuana.

The city has been working with the Local Union 992, a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) since 2020 to get a drug-testing policy implemented, according to the mayor.

“This has been a topic of discussion for the latter part of the last two years,” she said. “Then covid happened and things were put on hold.”

The details of the agreement were worked out and it was signed by Stewart and Union President Ken Keough June 24, before being overwhelmingly ratified by a July 8 union vote.

The city has contracted with Foley Carrier Services, which also conducts drug testing for employees with Commercial Driving Licenses (CDL). Random drug testing is expected to begin anytime after Aug. 1.

“They will be using a random algorithm to draw names,” Keough told the Herald. “Up to 45 firefighters or one-third of the department can be tested per year on a three-year cycle. Every member is always susceptible to getting their name drawn, so you have to not let your guard down and make sure you’re staying healthy and not picking up any bad habits.”

Fire staff will also undergo training to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse and testing will take place if reasonable suspicion is identified.

If a member of the department tests positive they will be subject to a tiered suspension without pay, with a third offense resulting in a recommendation of termination. The offender must also seek help from a substance abuse professional and fulfill their obligation for rehabilitation.

“We do pride ourselves in being a recovery-friendly community and employer,” Stewart said. “We understand the impact the job might have on an employee’s mental health and wellness. We can’t ignore that and we have many programs available to assist our employees who are struggling or in need of assistance.”

“If someone is having an issue we want them to get the help they need so they can make better choices,” said Keough, adding that negotiations with the city were finalized amicably. “Everybody worked well together. We all had the same goal in mind to create a better and healthier work environment.”

The agreement addresses the problem identified so all can move forward, according to the mayor.

“The events of the last six months have been incredibly stressful for members of our Fire Department,” she said. “I think us coming together to establish this policy and working in collaboration shows that we have a bright future ahead of us. I hope this is only the beginning of many good things to come.”

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at edrzewiecki@centralctcommunications.com.



Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Monday, 11 July 2022 16:46. Updated: Monday, 11 July 2022 16:48.