Our view: Firefighter autopsies raise important questions
There’s no question that Boston firefighters Paul Cahill and Warren Payne died doing their jobs, fighting a blaze in a West Roxbury Chinese restaurant.
But information from autopsy reports suggesting that Cahill had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system while Payne had traces of cocaine in his raise important questions both in this case and about firefighters in general. Among them are:
* Did the presence of the intoxicants in the firefighters’ systems inhibit their performance and contribute to their deaths?
* If so, are their families still entitled to the $400,000 in federal and state benefits paid to survivors of public safety officers killed in the line of duty?
* How extensive is drug and alcohol abuse among on-duty firefighters and to what degree does that threaten public safety?
* Does the hero cult that firefighters encourage prevent the public from discovering answers to these important questions?
Last week, someone with access to information about the firefighters’ autopsies leaked that information to the Boston media. The firefighters union sought an injunction prohibiting the publication or broadcast of the toxicology reports on the grounds that autopsies are not public records. A court sided with the union but the injunction was overturned on appeal.
According to published reports, Cahill’s blood-alcohol level was 0.27 – more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. Payne had traces of cocaine and marijuana in his system, the stories said. Payne and Cahill were killed when the grease-fueled Aug. 29 restaurant fire erupted in an explosion.
It’s difficult to say what effect the “traces” of drugs in Payne’s system had on his judgment. But a person with a 0.27 blood-alcohol level, as Cahill’s report is said to show, is impaired well beyond the legal standard for operating an automobile. It is unlikely that someone that intoxicated was in full control of his mind or body.
Federal law provides a survivors’ benefit of just over $300,000 for public safety officers killed in the line of duty. State law adds $100,000 on top of that. But the federal law expressly forbids payment when the deceased is shown to have been voluntarily intoxicated or to be under the influence of drugs. Clearly, by law, the benefits should not be paid. But given the political realities of this case, don’t expect anyone to stop payment on the checks.
A Boston paper found that 10 percent of the city’s firefighters were forced to undergo substance abuse treatment over the past three years. What are the rates for our local fire departments? Clearly, the Boston incident makes a strong case for mandatory, random drug and alcohol checks for all firefighters.
Anyone who raises questions about firefighters’ performance can expect a backlash, led by the firefighters themselves. Firefighters are “heroes” who “risk their lives every day” to save the rest of us from certain death. It is certainly true that firefighters have dangerous jobs and many perform heroic deeds.
But firefighters are well paid, both during their careers and into retirement, for providing this public service. The public has a right to expect that those they pay to provide this protection are doing so free from the influence of alcohol and drugs.
And that’s why it is important to discuss this story, despite contrary claims that it besmirches the good names of two men killed in service to their community.
I respectfully disagree with the writer of this article. These two guys died a horrible death and his “read between the lines” approach in this article makes me mad.
As most of you know from reading previous posts, I have the utmost respect for the hosedraggers but there is always a rilvary between the guns and hoses and from that rivalry comes my credo of “Everyone loves firefighters” kinda my take on the Mom always loved you best deal.
I have been listening to this story gain momentum on talk radio for the past week (its been a slow news cycle I guess)
If the firefighter was intoxicated he screwed up BIGTIME. Not his family. His family has been devestated by the loss of their (husband/father)
And for some bean counter to save a few bucks on this familys grief is unconsionable (and I believe) That the illegal leaking of the autopsy info was intentionally meant to further or bolster their argument for not paying out to the families. I firmly believe that it was not the selfless intention of the leaker to inform the public of rampant substance abuse or bring about change in the firehouse. It always comes down to the stack of Benjamin’s (cash) And a media that profits (in ratings) from such a tradgedy only makes me realize that Don Henly hit it right on the nose with his song “dirty laundry”
The questions need to be answered. And I believe that an investigation needs to be done on the fire officials and rank but they need to investigate find and expose the leak as well. If their intentions were so noble then why are they un-named sources? If justice is served by denying these families the pensions of professional firefighters. Then justice will not be complete until the leak is also brought to trial.
In my opinion there is no place for intoxicated firefighters, cops or any person who is entrusted with keeping people safe. But if this guy was as they are reporting an 0.27 BAC (which is 3x the legal limit here) then someone HAD to have known. He should have never been let into that firehouse in that condition (if the allegations are true) I’d like to know why every drunk dirtbag I have to deal with “has a legitimate problem, is a victim of their circumstances and should not be judged by society, but if the person in question is a professional, has a job, and is not spounging off the welfare system then they are fair game
I know I am going to piss a few people off, and I do not mean to diminish the sacrifices made by these two brave firefighters.But I am going to throw down the race card here as well.
One of the firefighters was black and the other was white, the white firefighter was allegedly drunk and the black firefighter allegedly had cocaine and marijuana in his system. In the Pollitically Correct Peoples Republic of Massachusetts, you would have to search really hard to find someone voicing concerns or outrage over the cocaine or marijuana but whenever you turn on an am radio station or tv your immediately immersed in info about the drunk Irish Firefighter.
I hate it when people play the race card, but damn if everyone else is going to….
And I’m just calling it as I see it (I invite anyone to check the Boston radio and tv stations and prove me wrong)
Furthermore seeing the Illiterate (seriously folks he needs hooked on phonix) Boston Mayor (who I absolutely dispise with a passion) Backpeddaling away from and demonizing these guys and basically cutting their families hearts out with his recent rhetoric now to save pollitical face (after semi eloquently eulogizing them just weeks ago) really makes my blood boil.
This entire situation was a tragedy. If the allegations are true, then it was a preventable tragedy. Nothing more nothing less and certainly not media fodder. I see what guys just like these guys do on a daily basis. And between you me and the lamp post I wouldn’t do their job for a million bucks.