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So what do you think of this? TV investigative reporter uses hidden camera to capture LA County assistant chief having a liquid lunch.

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FirefighterCloseCalls.com brought this story to my attention. It’s about a Los Angeles County Fire Department assistant chief who is now under investigation because a TV news reporter says he caught the chief drinking on the job. It’s another reminder that cameras are everywhere.

In this case, I am very interested in the back story that I didn’t find mentioned. What prompted the reporter to do this? One would guess a tip came in from a colleague or possibly someone at the restaurant.

When I was in the news business, I always looked at the real need for a hidden camera (I will admit it usually made me feel a bit sleazy in the few times I used it). What is it going to get that I can’t get with a camera out in the open? What is the value of the story that it would help capture? What wrong are we going to help right by going this route?

I also felt similarly about ambush interviews and tried to do them only when there was no other way to get a public official to talk. 

Now to the alcohol issue. Based on a story I posted on STATter911.com years ago about firefighters and drinking, I think I know what the reaction to this story is going to be and how it will be divided (if you have seen any of my presentations, you may know this answer). But I am curious if anything has changed since then. Let me know your thoughts on this story. Don’t be shy.

KCBS-TV:

Investigative reporter David Goldstein caught a high-ranking employee of LA County Fire allegedly drinking on the job.

Goldstein’s hidden cameras captured Vic Mesrobian, an assistant chief of County Fire’s information management department, drive off in a county fire vehicle and drink beer while on duty during lunch.

His formal title, Information Technology Manager, is a civilian position that pays $124,421.48 a year in taxpayer money.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Fire21

    When the rules say “Don’t do it”, and you get caught doing it, you deserve whatever punishment comes your way.

  • sheldon

    You can’t drink on the job. Our ambulance service says you can’t drink 12 hours prior to going on call. And while on duty? Come on get real,if that story is true he should be fired.

  • Scooter

    STUPID agree with above… Strike Da Box! K

  • SFC

    It must have been a slow news story day in La.

    I too agree, this issue needs to be addressed.

  • He

    If there is any person I have no pity for, it’s the one who drinks and drives. The first question that popped into my head was what , or who, threw the flag up to alert the media to tail this particular guy. It wasn’t a coincidence, the media was obviously following him.

  • incognito

    I too would like to know the back story here. He may be a “civilian employee,” but he was driving a government vehicle. I’ll bet some of his coworkers don’t like him.

  • ukfbbuff

    He was Driving Under the Influence Overall.

    So he was in violation of Departmental and Calif. DMV rules.

  • Anonymous

    The worst thing about this guy is (who drinks beer from a straw) he should be fired just for that!!

  • Anonymous

    Looks like a set up to me must of pissed someone off.

  • RJ(in florida)

    OK this guy is a civilian “chief” who works for the FD. he is not a firefighter or an officer, he’s a chief in name only and that should be made clear to seperate the civilian ranks from the FD ranks because there is a difference here and the media did say that but kept emphasizing the “fire chief” angle and that to me is wrong

    workin for the fire department does not make you a firefighter. the members deserve better

    • dave statter

      That is one of the questions I had. Is he a civilian?

  • Rescue Boss

    A couple notes
    – 1 beer will not make this a DUI case
    – Since he is a civilian employee he may not be “On duty”
    – What has LAFD said? If nothing I’m going to assume they are still trying to find something that he has don wrong.

  • Anonymous

    If their policies state they can’t drink while on duty, then he deserves to be punished.

    If they have no such policy for admin positions, I don’t see the problem as long as he wasn’t intoxicated.

  • Anonymous

    Depends on what policy is. But its really not news worthy. Waste of news time.

  • bgbootylvr

    Being a California Firefighter for over 20yrs. I can tell you that our culture toward alcohol in ths fire station is different then many of our brothers in other states. With the exception of a few volley depts. Most paid depts have not allowed drinking on duty or in the firehouse. With that said, Regardless of him being a “civilian” Ast. chief, he is on duty and driving a marked dept vehicle. It makes no difference if he is a FF or civilian. He is making a boat load of money on the tax payer dime and creating a bad image problem for a good dept. People are not tolerating the shenanigans being pulled by public safety employess anymore. We HAVE to be smarter than this. Why risk 29yrs of service to be fired and lose your retirement for a beer you can have in a few hrs????

  • Anonymous

    If the reporter believed he was committing a crime (DUI), he should have called the police to have him pulled over and given a roadside test.

    Since it can now not be proven one way or another whether or not he was intoxicated, the only remaining question is whether he was drinking alcohol in violation of department policies.

    As others have pointed out, is he “on duty” at all times in his civilian position? If you read the paragraph below the highlighted one at 2:59 in the video, it says that nobody shall report for duty with a BAC above .04 or .05 (it seems their policy is not zero alcohol within X hours, as with my department). So during his lunch break, is he off duty, then reporting back on duty after he finishes?

    I do think it was a bad idea for them to issue a response vehicle to someone in a civilian position. It makes it hard to tell the difference between his position and someone on duty. At a minimum, even department policy allows him to have a drink on a lunch break, he should have taken his POV.

    I also agree with those who think this was some kind of vendetta, likely from a disgruntled employee or colleague. You can clearly hear a second person telling the reporter that “he’s just sitting in his car” at the start.

    But the sleaziness of the reporter doesn’t change things. If the rules say he shouldn’t be drinking, he needs to be properly disciplined. Period.

  • bgbootylvr

    I think you read that wrong. It was quoting DMV’s stance on whats considered DUI with a commercial CDL or FF restricted license. The first and 2nd sentences say it all. Its against policy-period. I think would you be hard pressed to find any paid Dept in california that allows any consumption of alcohol while your on duty.

    I’ll bet that if he is driving a dept issued vehicle, then he is absolutely not allowed to drink while driving that vehicle-ever. One beer or two, civilian or not… He is being paid by the taxpayers. Times are much different. Again, why risk that awesome retirement for a freakn beer??

    • Anonymous

      I may indeed have read it wrong…context is everything, and I’m not about to take the time to find the actual document to clarify. Got better things to do. ;)

      But the first two sentences key on personnel who are “on duty”. If he is a civilian, it is *NOT* clear whether he is “on duty”, and therefore whether those first two lines apply to him. The reporter could clearly have researched this, but…well….that would require work and it wouldn’t be as sensationalistic.

      I think it comes down to whether or not he was “on duty”. He’s a civilian. He may not be on duty at all, or may not be so during lunch breaks. The use of the department vehicle may alter that…either just as an image problem, or he may have violated a separate rule about driving a department-owned vehicle after drinking (even if he would have otherwise been permitted to consume alcohol).

      I have absolutely no problem with a government employee, on their lunch break, consuming a beer – providing that they are not an emergency responder, their agency’s regulations permit it, and they do not return to work intoxicated.

  • Puzzled

    I couldn’t tell what he was or wasn’t drinking from the video. But wait, it’s on the internet. They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true.

    If it was beer, he’s one of the few who was driving after really drinking “only two beers”.

  • ukfbbuff

    As I see it;

    1st The Ca, DMV Handbook says whether one or five beers driving under the influence is Not Allowed irregardless of a Commerical Drivers License.

    2nd. Its reflected in the LA COUNTY FD Regulatons.

    3rd. He should be reprimanded, if not lose his “Rank”, which is probably based on his:

    Non FD/”Safety Retirement” Pay Grade within LA County and given a “Provisional Title” equal to it.

  • slackjawedyokel

    Coming from the perspective of a life long construction worker , who for lunch wouldnt have drunk a beer even if it was alowed. Not for moral reasons, but because not only did I usually need to drink water to re-hydrate, but also if I was even a little impared,I could be a danger or a drag to my fellow WORKERS. So it chaps my ass to see a desk riding government employee so un concerned with not only his ability to give 100% but to care how his actions reflect on the real fireman in the trenches.

  • Pingback: LA County Assistant Chief Filmed Drinking On Lunch Break | Fire Law

  • Chip

    I’m only offended he was drinking beer out of a straw. That’s an offense to a good glass of beer.

  • Eric

    Clearly, this was a tip and yes it does look like CBS had a slow news day. From the video, it may have not been a beer. Like few of you have said, who drinks beer out of a straw. CBS never validated that it was an alcoholic drink. What I would suggest to CBS to investigate other important issues that we, the citizens get screwed not someone who may or may have not drinking alchaholoc drink. I’ll call this a BS story.