The first 50 Boston firefighters screened in the city's new random drug and alcohol program have tested negative, a department spokesman said this afternoon.
The long-anticipated testing began with little fanfare on Sept. 23, when 20 firefighters at three firehouses submitted to breathalyzers and urine tests. The breathalyzers provide instant results for alcohol. Urine is sent to an out-of-state laboratory and analyzed for a spectrum of drugs.
The department released the results today in response to a Freedom of Information request made by the Globe. The Fire Department initially declined to release the results because of the privacy of the individuals who were tested, said the spokesman, Steve MacDonald.
The 50 firefighters were randomly tested in the first two weeks of the new program, which will become part of the routine at the Fire Department. Engine and ladder companies are selected at random by computer day or night, on weekends and holidays. Without warning, unmarked white box trucks arrive at firehouses and administer the screening.
The screening by Occupational Drug Testing LLC detects marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, opiates, and alcohol. If firefighters test positive, they are suspended without pay for 30 days and must complete a treatment program to return to the force. A second positive allows for dismissal.
Administrators have urged firefighters with addictions to come forward and seek help before being tested. Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr. has said that the goal of the program is not to fire people.
The push for random drug and alcohol testing in the Fire Department became a significant issue in 2007 after a blaze at the Tai Ho Mandarin and Cantonese Restaurant in West Roxbury killed two firefighters. Autopsy results made public that October showed that the two men may have been impaired.
One of the firefighters had traces of cocaine in his system, and the other had a blood-alcohol content of 0.27, more than three times the state's legal limit.
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