By Lee Coleman
The Daily Gazette
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The city Fire Department will start baseline drug tests for new hires in the near future and pursue random drug and alcohol testing for all firefighters, a city official said Wednesday.
The institution of drugs tests in the department comes in the wake of last month's arrest on drug charges of a six-year veteran firefighter. Justin R. Moran, 31, of Leonard Road in Saratoga Springs, was charged Feb. 9 with felony crack cocaine possession and endangering the welfare of a child because his two children, ages 3 and 1, were home at the time of his arrest.
The arrest of Moran and his girlfriend, Janel M. Sweet, 30, started a City Council discussion about drugs and drug testing in the city Fire and Police departments.
Moran, who was on involuntary medical leave at the time of his arrest, and Sweet will appear on the drug possession and endangering charges in City Court next week. Both are free on bail.
City Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said discussion will start soon between the city and the firefighters' union about random drug and alcohol testing being part of the next contract. He said baseline drug tests for people being hired will start as soon as possible.
Mathiesen also said again Wednesday he does not think random drug testing is necessary for the firefighters. "But since the community at large is in favor of it, it is necessary to follow through with this," he said.
Joseph Dolan, president of Saratoga Springs Firefighters Local 343, said the call for random drug and alcohol testing is a "severe reaction to an isolated incident." But he said the union is not opposed to talking about it.
He said the city and its firefighters have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2010, and have just started talks again.
Terms of drug testing need to be negotiated and confidentiality in testing and what happens if an individual tests positive are important considerations, Dolan said.
The city Police Department will also be implementing random drug and alcohol testing as soon as a testing company can be hired. The department has had a provision for random drug and alcohol testing in its union contract since 2008 but it had never been "activated," Mathiesen said. Officials explained the delay by saying there has been some trouble picking a company to do the testing.
The police currently test all new hires for drugs. The city Department of Public Works has a random drug and alcohol testing program.
Michael McManus, president of the New York State Professional Firefighters Association in Albany, said Wednesday that almost all professional fire departments in the state have baseline drug testing for new hires. But when it comes to random drug and alcohol testing, only about 30 of the 104 firefighter union locals in the association have this type of testing.
He said random drug and alcohol testing is an item that is optional in contracts.
"It's a negotiable item," McManus said.
The Schenectady Fire Department, for example, has had baseline and random drug and alcohol testing in place for at least 10 years.
Schenectady Deputy Chief Scott Doherty said the testing is done through Ellis Works, an arm of Ellis Hospital. The city's personnel administrator comes to the Fire Department with a list of personnel to be tested that day. As soon as the firefighters are notified of the tests they are taken off the duty roster and go to Ellis Works to be tested, Doherty said.
Mathiesen said Saratoga Springs' human resources consultant will soon be checking with drug and alcohol testing companies and proposals will be sought.
Mathiesen said the use of illegal substances at any time by a city police officer or firefighter can be "a reason for dismissal."
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