Last updated: September 20, 2021
The definition of a safety-sensitive position is a job in which the employee is directly responsible for his own safety or the safety of other people. Surely, firefighters would fall into that category. They run into burning buildings with no thought for their own safety! They’re always ready to take responsibility for the safety of others. Does the government require firefighters to take a DOT drug test?
In the past, the Department of Transportation (DOT) had little jurisdiction over the fire services operating in the United States. That’s because when the government would pass regulations to provide vehicle and highway safety, the fire service would obtain exemptions.
Safety wasn’t a top priority
After receiving the requested compliance exemptions, the industry failed to police itself. Notable groups, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), voiced industry safety concerns for years, injury and death rates kept rising. Things began to change after the federal government created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As states adopted OSHA regulations, they began to impose them on their fire departments.
Ultimately, there were still some major safety concerns to address as late as 1996 in some fire departments. Departments still largely ignored some regulations.
Career fire departments vs volunteer
Failure to follow through with random drug and alcohol testing as mandated by the DOT for safety-sensitive employees was one of the issues. However, most career fire departments were already requiring drug testing as a condition of employment.
It was the volunteer departments that were lagging behind. Things have changed for the better though. That’s good news considering that 67% of firefighters in the United States are volunteers.
Not all firefighters take the DOT drug test
While it’s true that a firefighter is responsible for the lives of others, the DOT is responsible for overseeing the safety of the general population while they travel. So, if a firefighter doesn’t drive the truck—or operate heavy equipment—no DOT drug test.
That’s not the only stipulation though. Being willing to take the test to drive the truck isn’t going to seal the deal. That’s because it depends on what type of driver’s license the employee is holding as well.
According to Part 382, Section 382.103 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, only those persons required to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) under Federal law and who are actually performing safety-sensitive duties can be tested for drugs and alcohol.
States have the option of waiving firefighters from CDL requirements. Again, if the state doesn’t require a CDL, then, part 382 doesn’t apply to the employee. In other words, the DOT can’t mandate a drug test. However, if they want to be allowed to drive a fire apparatus—whether it’s a pumper, a tanker, or a quint—the federal government requires they hold a CDL.
And, comply with the DOT drug test.
Firefighters who don’t operate equipment or vehicles aren’t mandated to take the DOT drug test but their department likely has a drug-free policy that follows the same drug testing requirements as those the federal government has put into place.