Local News

Chief: Raleigh firefighters can't do off-duty work in uniform

Posted August 24, 2010

— Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said Tuesday that firefighters in his department will no longer be allowed to wear their uniforms while working off-duty, but some people say the new policy will create problems.

After studying the issue for several months, McGrath said, he decided the line between on-duty and off-duty work had blurred, creating a potential conflict of interest.

For years, Raleigh firefighters in uniform have worked off-duty at entertainment venues like the RBC Center and the Raleigh Convention Center, performing a service called "fire watch."

If a fire alarm goes off in the venue, those on fire watch would investigate it first to determine if on-duty firefighters need to be dispatched. It prevents the need to evacuate a venue for a false alarm or minor incident.

"You get a popcorn popper that gets too close to a smoke detector (and the alarm sounds)," McGrath said. "You can't dump 20,000 people during a hockey game (for a non-emergency)."

The chief declined to say what prompted his investigation of the practice, but he said he found no wrongdoing by Raleigh Fire Department employees.

Firefighter generic, Raleigh Fire Department generic Raleigh Fire Department changes off-duty work policy

"They were doing things that the fire chief was uncomfortable with," he said.

From now on, McGrath said, fire watches can be ordered only by the city fire marshal, and no one can wear uniforms while working off-duty. The fire department will continue to provide fire watch services for city-sponsored events by using on-duty firefighters, he said.

"While Raleigh uniforms are being worn, (off-duty firefighters) are not really in the employment of the Raleigh Fire Department, although the same interests are being served. It creates a conflict of interest," he said. "If (venues) want to hire my people on a part-time basis as long as they're not on city time, they're not wearing the Raleigh uniform. They can hire them for their expertise."

Dave Olsen, general manager of the RBC Center, said he doesn't like the new policy, but he is working with McGrath to make the policy work for him and other venue managers.

"I've been in this arena business for 23 years, and I've never evacuated a building on a fire alarm," Olsen said. "It causes alarm, and that's not what we want to do. That's not what the intent is. We're hoping we work through this process – that this doesn't happen – but right now, it's a reality of what the future is going to bring us."


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • wcnc Aug 25, 2010

    After first not understanding this new policy, I think I may have figured it out. When RPD or WCSO works "off duty", it is really a business that contracts through those agencies for officers/deputies to work. I'm assuming "off duty" work by RFD at the RBC center is simply a few RFD workers who have a 2nd job that happens to be with RBC doing these fire alarm checks. That is the difference and the problem. If RBC Center tried to contract through RFD, they could wear their uniforms, I'm thinking.

  • mgratk Aug 25, 2010

    Take a system that works and mess with it. That's the way of government bureaucracy. Take extra money out of the pockets of firefighters, shift the cost from the venues to the taxpayers, and possibly create a situation where you have fire engines needlessly responding to non-emergencies while a real emergency arises somewhere else-- yeah. The fire chief did his job well, alright.

  • RPadi1 Aug 25, 2010

    I guess it is safe to say that they do not want to pay two fire-fighters (Even if it means leaving the fire department short handed by having to use "on duty" fire-fighters)... And it also means that "off duty" fire-fighters will not be able to suplement their income (Which is pretty poor)

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Aug 25, 2010

    I don't know all of the ins and outs. But the Fire Chief's decision sounds logical. I'm sure the Raleigh Fire Dept has a Code of Conduct and Rules. When a fireman is working for someone else, their COde of Conduct or Rules could conflict with the Fire Dept's rules or Code of Conduct. You don't want someone seeing a fireman that conflicts and think that fireman is representing your department.

  • ezLikeSundayMorning Aug 25, 2010

    The venues just want someone qualified to call off the fire trucks. I suspect the chief doesn't want to be blamed if off duties call them off and shouldn't have. But it's safer for reasonable people to make these decisions about evacuation. No one wants a mass evacuation where people may be injured when there is no real fire threat.

  • lyteoflife Aug 25, 2010

    once a firefighter...always a firefighter...in uniform or not; most people tend to respect the advise of someone with one on opposed to being told they are someone that they may not be. Ummm, does this mean that if there are things going on involving fire departments in which they are doing things with children they will not be in uniform??? Or does it mean you will have to divert calls onto another station so that a crew that is 'on the clock' can cater to the children in the community. Just wondering....it is a shame that they can't volunteer their time for the good and sake of others in uniform to show what their passion is for so many that look up to and honor them each and every day.

  • skisalomon Aug 25, 2010

    How many of you have actually bothered to read the entire article? The article clearly states that on duty firefighters will work 'city sponsored events' which is something they currently do. This new policy will not divert additional on duty resources and will not cost taxpayers additional money.

    Frankly, there is a tremendous difference in the necessity of off duty LEOs and off duty firefighters. I highly doubt that this will hinder fire watch personnel in any significant way (although they may get fewer phone numbers).

  • lizard Aug 25, 2010

    LEO's are cops 24 hrs/day. And constitutionally sworn. Firemen are not. There is a difference.

    If LEO's are not allowed to work off-duty then the ones on-duty will have more to respond to and it's better if organizers pay their own way and hire the cops themselves. It's sort of like eliminating corporate welfare. Why should my taxes go to keep the peace at a for profit entertainment venue?

  • m0nky Aug 25, 2010

    seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • ezLikeSundayMorning Aug 25, 2010

    Why so cryptic? What conflict of interest? I assume the fire dept would err on the side of caution, but the venue would avoid evacuation if at all possible. Was there a fire somewhere that almost got out of control while the off duties allowed people to stay and called off the on duties?