Target 8: Hillsborough firefighters know when drug screenings are coming

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County firefighters know when periodic, random drug screening tests are coming.   A clause in the contract between the county and the International Association of Firefighters has created a loophole for first responders so big, you could drive a firetruck through it.

The county agreed to conduct periodic drug screenings in January and July only, giving anyone who abuses drugs the opportunity to beat the system.

Quite simply, firefighters, paramedics and their supervisors know when the so called “random” tests are coming.

“That’s not nearly as effective as routine random testing, where employees don’t know when it’s coming,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation.

Fay contends if employees know when the drug screening tests are coming, the tests cannot be considered random.

“More importantly than detecting, you want to deter the use to begin with,” she said.

The testing the county accepted for years now stands in question.

Why?

Last September, firefighter Troy Whitaker accidentally left his 23-month-old child in a hot vehicle all day.  The child died.

Whitaker declined to take a drug test, telling investigators he occasionally smokes marijuana.

According to the Drug Free America Foundation, prolonged use of marijuana will stay in a person’s system one to two months, cocaine, two to four days and methamphetamine one to two days.

The current union contract allows potential users to clean up long before the January and July tests.

Target 8 spoke briefly with union president Derek Ryan.  He said next week they will start negotiations with the county on a new contract.

Will the drug screening be addressed?  Ryan said he did not want to negotiate through media.

At the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, things are a lot different.  Every two weeks, a computer randomly produces the names of 20 employees to be tested.

“We’re very strict on that. We want our employees to be drug free both on and off duty,” Detective Larry McKinnon said.

Tampa Fire Rescue and the Tampa Police department also conduct monthly drug screenings.

If you have something that you think should be investigated call our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800-338-0808.

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