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What do you think of this? Firefighters caught in the act … of smoking.

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An undercover I-Team investigation in Massachusetts. WBZ-TV reporter Joe Shortsleeve, armed with a hidden camera, catches firefighters smoking. It apparently wasn’t that hard of an assignment, with Shortsleeve saying he caught one after another in the act of lighting up.

So, why is this news? Because Massachusetts State law prohibits firefighters and police officers from smoking or using any tobacco products and Shortsleeve says it isn’t being fully enforced.

Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV:

Why so strict?  Because of the inherent dangers in their jobs, police and firefighters are eligible for a tax free disability pensions with complete health care and they are not cheap for the taxpayer. The I-Team has learned the state paid out $75 million in health related disability pensions over the past five years to more than 1,800 police and firefighters.

Joe Connarton oversees the state’s public employee pension system. He says if a police officer or firefighter has a heart attack or gets cancer, it is automatically presumed to be job related.

MA Boston smoking firefighters

Shortsleeve: “For the most part the doctors go along with the presumption.”

Connarton: “That is correct.”

But firefighters who contacted the I-Team and did not want to be identified say the “no smoking” policy is rarely if ever enforced. 

“You sign a paper when you get the job and say you will refrain from using these products.”

MA Boston I Team graphic WBZ

“So the citizens of Massachusetts are eventually going to be paying the pensions of these people who swore they would never smoke and now they are going to walk out the door with a tax free pension that you and I going to pay for.”

Ed Kelly is the President of the Massachusetts Fire Fighters Association. He says local chiefs should enforce the no smoking rule. But Kelly says firefighters should be offered treatment, not termination.

“It is disturbing,” he says. “I don’t feel good about it. It is not the image we want to portray.”

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Michael

    The gentlemen has an interesting report. I would say that the issue could be directed to any govt. employee that smokes anywhere. Preventable medical conditions such as COPD and cardiac problems related to smoking, overweight, or not in good physical condition happen in all occupations, including journalism.
    The point that it is tax supported and that employees sign documentation to REFRAIN from smoking gives some merit to the information.
    Yes people have the right to do things that they want to do, but the insurance/pension industry could make the case that if you are going to do something that has been proven to increase the chance of something bad happening, than they have no reason to pay out any funds to fix it.

  • Sarcastic jake

    There are two things that will get you fired from a police or fire job instantly in massachusetts: smoking and lying during an investigation. Everyone who’s signed up since the law went into effect knows that, so I have no sympathy and those who have been getting away with it should consider themselves lucky and need to get their act together.

  • SrFireOfficial

    I was in the first recruit school hired by employer to sign a “No Smoking Contract” as a condition of employment because of the newly enacted Virginia Heart-Lung Bill that provides Virginia’s fire and law enforcement with Workmen’s Compensation in the event that they later contract a chronic heart or lung disease. I had never smoked before and never over of the course of my career.

    Obviously, if the “white-shirt” is puffing away, then there won’t be any enforcement of this policy and the consequences for insubordination, any attempt will be met by a winnable grievance on the part of the aggrieved employee. Kind of also makes me wonder what other policies are procedures are only “on-paper” and not adhered to in this outfit.

  • Fire21

    It comes down to integrity and personal commitment. You sign the paper, thus giving your word that you’ll not use them. Then you shuck all that and do it anyway. Anyone here remember the days when a man’s word was sufficient to guarantee compliance? Those days left a longtime ago.

    Those caught using tobacco should be deleted from eligibility for the pension benefits, period.

    • Dallas

      Right idea, wrong target. It isn’t the pension benefits that should be at risk it is the heart/lung presumption, that is where the issue is. If you are proven to have violated no smoking commitment (like being caught on camera) then the presumption goes. If you have a heart or lung issue the burden is then on you to prove that the problem was caused by the job and not your smoking in violation of the agreement you signed.

      It could be argued that violating the smoking ban might actually help the pension fund (more likely to drop dead sooner thereby limiting the pension liability…).

      Aiming for the pension benefits would just muddy the waters, it is the presumption that should be targeted.

  • Retired Chief

    I think the lack of fire training and lack of engines laying out is much more of an issue than someone. Get a grip on reality.

  • Shh…

    Slow news day in Mass?

  • MAEMTB

    Ah, Massachusetts, the ultimate nanny state. Born here, lived here my whole life, none of it surprises me anymore.

    The serious issue here in abstract is in the acceptance and signing of an official document upon hire and then violating the policy. It’s an impression, if not reality, of a lack of personal integrity and inherent trust and in this job that becomes quite troubling.

    The particulars of any such agreement easily become a slippery slope straight out of the gate. Smoking/tobacco use in this case could, for instance, just as easily be the consumption of soda containing HFCS, noting its contribution to developing obesity and type II diabetes.

    As far as MA goes this is not hyperbole. To wit: back in 2011, Boston’s Mayor Menino banned the sale of HFCS-containing beverages in City-owned buildings, “…citing a link between the beverages and rising obesity rates and health care costs. “We are in the midst of a health crisis in the city,” Menino said”

    Again, this is a completely separate issue from the more serious matter of violating a condition of employment. The ban could be anything from tobacco to soda to fast food if we’re talking about controlling risky behaviors that have health consequences.

    …More like a luge run than a slippery slope, no?

  • puzzled

    “state paid out $75 million in health related disability pensions over the past five years to more than 1,800 police and firefighters”.

    How many of these 1800 can be 100% proven to have come from tobacco? I’ve known many firefighters who have never used tobacco products, and still suffered from cancers, breathing/heart problems, and countless other health issues.

    No doubt tobacco use can contribute to health issues, but few physicians will state that tobacco use is the exclusive cause these health issues.

    I believe that an employer might be justified in dictating what can be done on company time. But to dictate what an employee can and cannot do on their off hours is a stretch. But then again, I remember when we used to live in a free country.

  • AbsoluteReality

    The issue is clear.

    After a certain point in time, FFs and LEOs where offered and accepted their job
    with the understanding that they were not permitted to use tobacco products.

    If they violate this agreement, which is also a violation of the public trust,
    FIRE THEM IMMEDIATELY.!!

    There are plenty of qualified individuals who are willing
    to comply with this requirement of employment.

    And don’t listen to the
    Inbred Amalgamation of Featherbedding Frat-Boys

    “Live to Serve, Serve to Live” (ourselves)

    • doobis

      I would hope that we live, and will continue to live, in a society that is a bit understanding and compassionate. I, personally, do not want to live in a society that reacts to all employment infractions with termination and all criminal ones with the gallows. But you know there are plenty of countries that operate as if people are expendable so perhaps I am wrong and you are on point.

      • AbsoluteReality

        Man Up.!!

        YES, I AM ON POINT .!!!

        They took the job and said they’d ride for the brand.
        THEY LIED.!!! So, SEE YA.!!!

        But see, THAT is “understanding and compassionate”.
        They DO have a problem and I’m recommending the solution.

        Their Problem: They are working for the WRONG Fire Dept.!!!

  • puzzled

    Massachusetts State law prohibits firefighters and police officers from smoking or using any tobacco products and Shortsleeve says it isn’t being fully enforced.

    Enforced by who? Does Mass have a tobacco task force? Is it a felony or misdemeanor? Does one get a citation or jail time? Is there a tobacco court?

    State law implies a criminal offense.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe he was hired prior to the rule being enacted,and he is grandfathered?

  • mark

    Maybe if the gov’t stopped subsidizing tobacco farmers, then demonizing them, and taxing cigarettes in order to generate revenue, I might be a little more upset.

    And I am a non-smoker, and had cancer before I joined the fire service.

    Just stupid politicians trying to regulate more and more freedoms away from us.

    Having said that, be a man of your word.

  • RIP FALLS

    The Federal Gov’t is all shut down……. Lotta people not getting paid because of those who serve us…. And they worried about a guy smoking?

    God help us……..

    • AbsoluteReality

      GOD (Please) Forgive Us.!!!

      We butcher babies in the womb and coddle the lawbreakers.
      Once we were a moral country with laws and justice.
      Now, so very few are held accountable for their actions.

      Soooo, back on track, girls…
      The topic is ….
      Ignoring the job requirement of NOT using tobacco products.

      There are actually (3) paths available…
      (A) Comply with the job requirement of NOT using tobacco products.
      OR…
      (2) Go to the Fire Chief and ask for assistance to quit smoking.
      The EAP should provide a rehab program.
      OR…
      (C) Get caught smoking
      (especially on-duty, in uniform, on “Company” Property)
      and get fired IMMEDIATELY.!!!!

  • Jason

    There are a large number of people grandfathered before the law went into effect. There is no mention of this anywhere in the story. Essentially if you were hired before the law became effective January 1, 1988 you are still allowed to smoke. Anyone with 25 years or more of service is not covered by the tobacco use clause. If you are hired after this date and they catch you, you are gone, no exceptions, no appeals. No one has ever fought a termination based on the law and successfully returned to the job.

    So why didn’t the news report all of those they caught on camera to their employers? My guess is that, just maybe they were grandfathered and it doesn’t fit the abuse of the system storyline. Not Mr Shortsleeve’s first half baked attempt to nail firefighters, last time it was for grocery shopping on duty.

    If you think a union is going to bat for someone fired for this, you are wrong. It happened on my department. The protection under the heart and lung bill is too important to lose. There is no excuse. Too many guys died of cancer and heart disease without this legal protection.

    • AbsoluteReality

      THANKS for the Great Insights.!!

      Especially concerning the REAL IAFF.!!!

      Not the Faux-iaff which all too often rears its moronic head…

      Inbred Amalgamation of Featherbedding Frat-Boys

      “Live to Serve, Serve to Live” (OURSELVES)

  • Hollywood613

    I wonder if the state has all of their welfare recipients sign a letter stating they will not smoke or use illegal substances while receiving medical benefits paid for by the taxpayers. I’m sure the welfare system pays out a hell of a lot more than the pension system. Just a thought…..

  • Mass Fire Chief

    As a Massachussets Fire Chief I have pretty strong feelings about this. Firefighting is a very physical job. Peoples lives depend on your ability to do the job. I compare firefighters to Pro Athletes in the sense that their physical ability to perform is 50% of the job. Using your brain is the other 50%.  With that being said I support immidate disiplinary action to any firefighter that is caught violating the Presumtion law.  Should we fire them on a first offense? No there needs to be a process to allow them to become compliant with the understanding that there is no second chance.  Too many people fought to get these laws passed to protect our first responders from both the hazards of the jobs and themselves. I do not like these type of investigative reports Joe Shortsleeve.  You need to get a life and report on some real news.

  • Zeroangel

    It’s funny how this article tries to evoke outrage when in fact firefighters are more likely to develop respiratory problems ANYWAYS from sucking back smoke on a frequent basis (even if they use breathing apparati when possible, its impossible to avoid sucking back smoke and inhaling pollutants from a fire scene). Secondly, firefighters are such a small population compared to the general public that it’s almost moot. What a terrible piece of journalism — must’ve been a slow news day somewhere in Massachusetts.