“If you think you know the people that work for your organization, you may be surprised.”
Question: Should a fire chief perform drug testing and/or background checks in a volunteer organization where city council is afraid of what they might find if they performed such proactive programs?
Answer: Our response to the chief was simple to tell but tough to hear for the chief. In this case, the law is known or should have known. When your member or employee hits and kills a family of three, that is not the time to say, “I did not know he/she had two DWI’s in the last four years.” The attorneys on staff with Management Solution for Emergency Services (MSFES) have made it very very clear that you saying that you did not know would cost you your wallet and a lot more. Turning your head and hoping it goes away will cost you and your organization in the long run.
Question: Is performing drug testing and background checks an invasion of privacy?
Answer: This question came from a board of directors, as they did not want to make their volunteers angry. Our answer was: Over 90 percent of the companies in the United States pull background checks on their employees and around 84 percent of companies do drug testing. So, the young lady or gentlemen down the street making t-shirts had her/his background checked pulled and they had to do a pre-employment drug test before allowing them to make t-shirts. Making a t-shirt involves much less responsibility than those of the emergency service personnel below:
Emergency Service Personnel Responsibilities
- Drives a 10,000 – 70,000 pound vehicle at high rates of speed, running red lights, going in and out of traffic and on and on
- Interacts with children at fire prevention
- Makes life saving decisions on not only their lives, the public’s lives, your other employees or volunteers’ lives
- Goes into your citizens’ homes with everything they own, while they are not there or standing in the front yard, because they trust your organization
I hope you can see where we are going with this. If someone that makes a t-shirt is drug tested, why should emergency services personnel not be? When MSFES started over two years ago, the staff at MSFES talked about ways to provide protection to emergency service departments. In our initial conversations, we started recognizing that departments and squads did not do background checks or drug testing and our staff attorneys were in shock and concerned about liability for the organization. In response to the concerns raised by our attorneys, we started to put together background check and drug testing programs that are reasonably priced in order that all organizations would be able to access these services.
When it comes to making volunteers or your employees angry, doing criminal history checks or drug testing should not be it. If you have someone who gets upset because of taking a drug test or criminal history check, you need to understand that they may be hiding something from you. It’s like a department treasurer that gets mad over your department implementing new policies that could provide oversight on their position. IT MAY BE A SIGN!
Question: What do you find when working with emergency services organizations?
Answer: We have seen the following and much more:
- Sexual Abuse of a Child (One member had eight pages)
- Drag Racing
- Speeding -100 plus MPH, Reckless Driving
- Burglary, Larceny, Robbery, Embezzlement, Fraud
- Soliciting Prostitution
- DWIs & BWIs
- Shooting Animals out of season
- And the list goes on!
If you think you know the people that work for your organization, you may be surprised. The biggest thing is that most departments don’t understand that most insurance companies will not cover people found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, larceny and other charges.
In our studies we have seen cases that the chiefs and city officials were held liable for the acts of their employees and volunteers. If you don’t want to make an employee or volunteer angry because you are protecting your department, your citizens, your other employees/volunteers, and the biggest, yourselves and your family, try this. Go into the bay area and take tape and make a box that is six foot by eight feet. Then place a bed, toilet and then ask someone to sit in there with you. You see, this is the average size of a jail cell in the United States. Most of us would never make a bad enough mistake to land us in jail, so why would you allow someone to make a decision that could put you there?
Protecting your organization and citizens is more important than a few upset or disgruntled people. We want to thank everyone that called and emailed with questions on how they could protect their organizations. We will be offering more and more ways to legally protect yourself and your departments in the next few issues of this journal, so please check them out. Please keep the calls and emails coming as we are eager to help protect you.