PITTSBURGH -- When about 4,000 firefighters and guests gathered last month at the annual volunteer firemen's convention, they knew what to expect: camping, a parade, and beer and alcohol.
But what started out as a long weekend of fun ended in tragedy when a fire chief died after a drunken bar fight. Another firefighter is being investigated in a fatal car crash; police said he, too, was drunk.
Fire chiefs across the country have been rethinking the relationship between alcohol and firefighters, but organizers of the multicounty convention insist there's no direct connection between the event and the deaths -- so they don't see a need to do anything differently next year.
''Some things are out of your control," said Paul Sklodowski, president of a volunteer fire company in Cambria County, which is slated to host the next convention.
But the head of the International Association of Fire Chiefs said events featuring drinking have no place in the fire service.
''These are firefighters, and they have a responsibility to uphold the public trust -- and you don't do that by going out and getting drunk in public," said Garry Briese, executive director of the association, a Fairfax, Va.-based group that includes more than 12,000 North American fire chiefs.
Ray Stringer, 43, chief of a volunteer fire company in Tyrone, was killed Aug. 19 in a bar fight while in town for the convention. Later that day, John Smoter, 29, of the East Taylor Fire Department, was involved in an accident that killed an 83-year-old man.
Both happened shortly after the firefighters left the convention.
Last year the International Association of Fire Chiefs developed a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol, which they suggested departments adopt.