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A new report from the Better Government Association is critical of policies at metro area fire departments, including Evanston’s, that let firefighters report for work after drinking.

The report surveyed 20 departments and found that 16 have union contracts that let firefighters start work with some amount of alcohol in their bloodstream.

The permitted limits range from a low of 0.02 percent in four towns, including Evanston, to a high of 0.08 percent — the legal limit for drivers — in two communities — Oak Park and the Orland Protection District.

Evanston Fire Chief Greg Klaiber says the current policy has been in effect for at least 25 years.

Click here for a larger version of the BGA’s chart.

“It’s worked for us,” Klaiber says, adding that in all that time he’s never once heard of an incident in which a firefighter was impaired on the job.

“We have zero tolerance for substance abuse,” Klaiber said, and if anyone did appear to be impaired at work “they’d be removed from duty and required to get tested.”

The chief added that his preference would be to set the alcohol limit at zero, and that he’s open to negotiating that change when the firefighters contract comes up for renewal at the end of this year.

A related BGA study of local police departments found that Evanston was one of six departments that set a zero alcohol level for officers on duty, while others permitted varying levels, with some up to the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.

Related documents

Shots and Lagers, Chutes and Ladders (BGA, 3/28/2013).

License to Swill (BGA, 3/14/2913)

Evanston firefighters union contract

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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