Should Flagstaff firefighters submit to the same
drug-testing policies as other city employees?

The Virtual Editorials - E1 (May 8, 2005) - Dennis Foster

Introduction:  This was an interesting first choice for a topic as it made me think about the issue quite a bit.  Initially, I thought, "Sure they should" but then commenced to read up on the topic and put it into a sensible libertarian framework.  Interestingly, all six of we "virtual editors" opposed such testing, while the Daily Sun editorial supported such testing.

Virtual Editorial #1

     If the city can legally opt out of requiring drug testing, and if taxpayers can be freed from any liability in this regard, then I would say, “Don’t test.”  Neither on a regular, nor a random, basis.

     We all want to be safe.  We all want to be able to trust the competence of those involved with aspects of our safety.  In the case of firefighters, what we really want is the assurance that these individuals are fit for duty.  It is the job of supervisors to assess whether their employees are fit.  If they cannot discern a worker’s diminished capacity, especially during the 364 days a year that testing is not done, then we have a much bigger problem than whether to test for drugs.  And, if it were certain (which it isn’t) that drug use impairs the performance of firefighters, shouldn’t we test daily?  Otherwise, what is the point?

     What if the city cannot opt out and/or taxpayers are liable from damages caused by a firefighter that was impaired due to drug use?  Then, we should outsource fire protection services to private firms.  If they find that such testing enhances productivity, and profitability, they will do so.

Afterword:  I saw two particular problems with this testing.  First, it doesn't automatically indicate that the person is impaired, only that they have broken the law.  So, why should it be required?  I do not accept the "health and safety" argument here - either the person's incapacitation is observable, or it is not.  I read that a test for marijuana may detect trace amounts up to thirty days after ingestion.  If so, then if a firefighter goes on vacation, say to some country that allowed for pot use (William F. Buckley famously did this many years ago, just to see what all the fuss was about), then in the weeks following one's return to work it is possible to fail a drug test without any illegality having been committed.
     A second concern relates to the fundamental proposition that such testing is just a fishing trip to see if the individual has committed a crime.  Since the penalty for failing such a test was to be removal and prosecution, then maybe it would be easier to just administer lie detector tests every day.  That way we can find out if anyone, working for the city, has committed any crime.  How would that be any different than the drug testing policy?  I don't think it would be any different.  This would be quite a slippery slope to head down.
     Also, I wanted to use these editorials to impart some sense for markets as an alternative to government, and I did so here.  While I didn't expect too many people to jump on this "privatization" bandwagon, I did hope that readers would think outside the box.

Return to Virtual Editorials Home Page