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Panel Wants Drug Tests for Fire Fighters

A panel reviewing Boston fire department policies wants random drug and alcohol tests for public safety officials.

The three-member panel was appointed by Mayor Tom Menino after revelations that two firefighters had drugs or alcohol in their systems when they died in an August blaze.

The panel wrote that members of the department who receive a positive test result for drugs or alcohol should "immediately be removed from duty and referred to the Department's Employee Assistance Program."

Mayor Menino reiterated the panel's findings.

"I do know that random drug testing is one of the major points of the report," he said. "What I want is for the fire department, as they go into those buildings, to ensure they're not inhibited by any drugs or alcohol... It should be mandatory in all public safety departments, not just in Massachusetts but throughout the country."

The fire department's current policy does not allow for random, mandatory testing for drugs and alcohol.

Officials from unions representing fire fighters say they're open to discussions about any of the panel's findings, as long as firefighters are properly compensated.

Menino said he's willing to negotiate on compensation levels, but won't budge on the principle behind what he said protects public safety.

He said cost is also an issue.

"The city only has so much money," Menino said. "We can't just say we're going to pay them 'x' amount of dollars. I have 58 other unions within the state government and I can't bankrupt the city on one issue."

The panel also recommends adding three high-level civilian management positions, for oversight of "administration and finance, planning and organizational development, and responsibilities related to labor and management."

No word on how long negotiations between the city and fire fighter unions might take.

Abigail Beshkin contributed to this report.

This program aired on November 30, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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