Fire rescue looking into complaints of crews taking engines on personal runs

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Two complaints pertaining to two different firehouse crews has prompted an investigation into whether or not firefighters are using fire engines or other official vehicles out on personal runs.

Assistant Fire Chief Dale Justice said that the complaints hinge on two different crews on two different dates taking their engines to a school so that a firefighter could watch his or her child receive an award.

“In general, this is not allowed,” Chief Justice said. However, firefighters do routinely visit schools and businesses performing public education on fire safety.  

In both alleged instances, the engines remained within their assigned primary response zone and were equipped to handle emergency calls, according to Assistant Chief Justice, who added that the firefighters would have been ready to respond at all times.

“We’re here to serve the public,” said Chief Justice.

The units under investigation are from stations posted in the northern part of the county, though which stations in particular will not be released until the investigation concludes, Justice said.

As for the complaints about the engines visiting schools for personal reasons, Justice said that the department is close to completing its investigation and expects to deliver its findings within the next week or two.

The assistant chief said that complaints and incidents are few and far between within the department, but when they pop up, they are investigated thoroughly.

Whenever the department receives a complaint, officials follow up with the complainant (if not anonymous) to get more details, then will talk to the emergency personnel in question, including union representatives as needed.

They then review the Indian River County Emergency Services District Rules and Regulations to determine whether or not any rules have been violated.

“We believe the policy on the books is clear,” Chief Justice said, later adding that the department does plan to review the policy and make changes as necessary to further clarify the rules.

The county’s Emergency Services Department has also heard from the public about fire engines making grocery runs. According to Justice, such use of an engine is permitted — so long as the entire crew is there and ready to roll out for an emergency.

The department believes that allowing the fire crews — which could consist of anywhere from five to eight members — go grocery shopping at the start of their shift helps to build a cohesive unit.

“It helps with morale,” Chief Justice said. “It helps with teamwork.”

The crews are stationed at their fire house for 24-hour shifts. Many of the firefighters don’t know what station they will be at for their shift until they report for duty, making it difficult for them to plan ahead for food.

Chief Justice said the crews strengthen bonds through sharing meals, which also helps to keep the firefighters and paramedics on the same schedule. They all eat and complete their meals at about the same time.

“It maintains readiness,” he said.

Another non-emergency trip firefighters are allowed to take their engines out on include running to headquarters for supplies and equipment maintenance items.

By the Book:

Section Three – Standards of Conduct in the Indian River County Emergency Services District Rules and Regulations addresses the use of equipment:

 “3.11 – Use of Emergency Services District Property: Emergency Services Department employees shall not use District property, equipment or vehicles except in the performance of official duties nor permit its use by an unauthorized person, either on or off duty.”

“3.15 Professional Conduct and Responsibility subsection U – Department Vehicles Use:  Department vehicles shall be used for official business only.”

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