Orlando firefighters' union calls random alcohol screenings 'retaliation'

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Fire Department firefighters take drug and alcohol tests during annual physicals, but the city of Orlando also recently began random screenings.

The union that represents the firefighters is battling the city in court because it feels the fire chief is retaliating after its members gave him a vote of no-confidence.

The city said the new tests are because firefighters operate large trucks and provide medical treatment.

Garbage truck drivers will also be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol, but the union wants to know why firefighters are being held to a higher standard than police officers, who are armed.

The Orlando Police Department tests for drugs, but not alcohol.

Police officers "may not be required to submit to a breathalyzer test when selected for a random drug test," Orlando police Chief John Mina said in a staff email.

"The police chief has done a good job of trusting his officers," said Ron Glass, president of Orlando Professional Firefighters.

Glass said firefighters are being singled out for being critical of their boss.

"We had a vote of no confidence against the fire chief due to some of these issues regarding the contract, the response to Pulse, the response to numerous issues within the fire department," he said.

Channel 9 requested an interview with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to ask if agencies should have similar policies or if they should be different.

The city declined Channel 9's request for an on-camera interview.

But a spokeswoman provided an emailed statement, saying in part, "The city believes there should be random drug and alcohol testing for firefighters as they operate large equipment and provide critical medical treatment."

Glass said two thirds of the fire department employees don't drive city vehicles whereas most police officers do -- sometimes at a high rate of speed. Many also carry high-powered, lethal weapons.

"Some people may see this story and think firefighters are just trying to get out of alcohol testing," Channel 9 reporter Lauren Seabrook said. "Is that the case?"

"That's not the case at all," Glass said. "No. This city has the ability right now to alcohol test anybody who shows any type of reasonable suspicion."

When Channel 9 asked about alcohol testing for police, Mina and the city said changes to alcohol testing for police officers must happen through the collective bargaining process. The current agreement with OPD is in place through September 2019.

See policies for some Central Florida police and fire departments below:

Orlando police and fire departments
- Police are randomly drug tested once a year
- Sworn employees undergo a 10 panel drug test; lieutenants take a seven panel test, which doesn't include Propoxyphene, Methaqualone and Methadone.
- Firefighters are subject to random drug and alcohol tests

Orange County Sheriff's Office
- Random drug testing (not alcohol) for sworn deputies and certain civilian positions (evidence, CSI)
- All new employees are drug tested prior to hire

Winter Park police and fire departments
- Employees at both agencies are subject to the same policy
- They're both tested for drugs (not alcohol) before employment, post-crash or job injury and during annuals physicals (no random testing)
- Both are tested for drugs and alcohol if there is reasonable suspicion of either

Leesburg Fire Department
- Fire department employees are tested for drugs and alcohol if there's reasonable suspicion or if they're involved in a crash
- The city conducts random drug and alcohol tests on those who hold positions that affect public health or safety and holders of commercial driver's licenses

Melbourne police and fire departments
- Employees at both agencies are tested for drugs and alcohol during annual physicals

Ocala police and fire departments
- The agencies have different policies
- Police Department employees are subject to random drug and alcohol tests (20 percent of employees per quarter)
- Fire Department employees are tested for drug and alcohol if there is reasonable suspicion