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Brea to Ban Firefighters Who Smoke

Times Staff Writer

In the first action of its kind in Orange County, Brea firefighters have agreed on a two-year contract that prohibits the city from hiring smokers.

The contract, approved last Friday by the Brea Fire Employee Assn., awaits City Council approval on July 1. The contract also calls for about a 5% increase in salary and benefits the first year and another 5% raise the second year.

But the contract also includes a “no smoking” policy for new firefighters, fire engineers and fire captains.

Tougher Than Laguna’s

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The provision will make the Brea policy tougher than the one reviewed last week by the Laguna Beach City Council, which voted 3 to 2 to explore adoption of a policy giving hiring preference to non-smoking firefighters and police officers, Laguna Beach City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said.

Brea Fire Chief Jerry L. McDowell explained: “We’re saying, ‘We’re not hiring them. Period.’ So it’s a little more stringent than what Laguna (is considering).”

Brea’s new policy will not affect the five or six smokers in the department’s staff of 44 employees, McDowell said.

But for new employees, non-smoking--on duty and off--will be a way of life if they want to remain on the job, the chief said, adding: “If they want to be a fireman here, smoking can’t be included in their life style.”

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A firefighter who is hired as a non-smoker but takes up tobacco once employed will give the city “grounds for dismissal,” the chief said Monday.

McDowell, who recently quit smoking himself, said he created the new hiring policy to avoid future personnel health problems and to improve the current environment for the firefighters already working in Brea.

The 34 members of the firefighters’ association approved the concept because most of them don’t smoke and “they don’t want to be surrounded by it,” McDowell said.

The policy, which addresses only tobacco and no other smoking substance, will disqualify applicants who have smoked within one year of application.

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John Petruzziello, president of the Orange County Fire Chiefs Assn., said he knew of no other fire department in the county that bans smokers.

Petruzziello said his own department in Costa Mesa earlier this year adopted a policy similar to the one Laguna Beach is considering. Costa Mesa gives preference to non-smoking firefighters, and the two latest hirees are non-smokers, he added.

Laguna Beach is considering such a policy because smokers tend to be sick more and use medical benefits at a higher rate than non-smokers, the city’s personnel director said in a report.

In Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city, personnel officials considered a similar policy several years ago, according to Dave Hill, assistant human resources director. But because the number of smokers appeared to decrease since “everyone has become so health conscious,” Anaheim officials no longer considered it “a significant issue,” Hill said. Of Anaheim’s crew--slightly more than 200 firefighters--fewer than 20 smoke, Hill added.

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