Firefighters disciplined for drinking

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Two Valencia County firefighters have been disciplined after arriving at a structure fire under the influence of alcohol on New Year's Day.

Valencia County Fire Chief Steven Gonzales said both firefighters were given a written reprimand and suspended from service for a week.

Nathan Gonzales, a career staff person, asked for a hearing about the incident, Gonzales said. It was discovered that the individual was hired in violation of the county's nepotism policy, the chief said.

"He was terminated because of the nepotism policy, not because of the New Year's incident," Gonzales said.

In the December incident, the two firefighters arrived at a structure fire. One was "belligerently drunk," Gonzales said, and the other admitted to taking a shot of alcohol at midnight.

"They were separated and removed from the scene," he said. "Upon the completion of the fire suppression, they were issued a written reprimand and week suspension."

The chief said the department does not have confirmation as to whether the two firefighters were considered legally drunk because a sobriety test was not conducted. "It should have been done," Gonzales said.

The county's reliance on a mostly-volunteer fire staff can make doing the job difficult, the chief said.

"I think they both made a decision to act in the best interest of the county. They knew there was a need for help; they responded to provide assistance," Gonzales said. "They made a bad decision; they were under the influence. But it's hard to dictate what they can and can't do with their home lives.

"The bottom line is Valencia County does not provide 24-hour career coverage," he said. "We don't have the budget to do that."

Gonzales said the county's fire system relies on its volunteers, especially during the night.

"If someone goes to dinner and has a beer, it doesn't mean they're intoxicated," he said. "But they did ingest alcohol and, as per policy, are supposed to be off 12 hours.

"I have asked the county for more paid personnel," he said. "Until we can put 24-hour fire staff on the streets and pay them to be there regardless of the day, hour or holiday, there's no way we can sit back and require our volunteers to not be under the influence 24/7."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.