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I-Team: First Responder No Smoking Policy Rarely Enforced

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Did you know firefighters and police officers are not allowed to smoke?

The I-Team has learned it is a critical part of this state’s very strict pension law. But firefighters who contacted WBZ-TV wanted to know why no one is enforcing it.

Our cameras captured them smoking. One after another. Firefighters lighting up.

And they could get fired.

Why? Because Massachusetts state law prohibits firefighters and police officers from smoking or using any tobacco products. However, firefighters hired before 1988 are exempted from the law.

Lynn Rossborough was the first officer fired from her job with the Plymouth Police in 1993. But since the zero tolerance regulation went into effect 25 years ago, two firefighters have also made headlines, let go, for lighting up.

Rossborough says, “I cried …it was hard to believe.”

Why so strict? Because of the inherent dangers in their jobs, police and firefighters are eligible for a tax free disability pensions with complete health care and they are not cheap for the taxpayer. The I-Team has learned the state paid out $75 million in health related disability pensions over the past five years to more than 1,800 police and firefighters.

Joe Connarton oversees the state’s public employee pension system. He says if a police officer or firefighter has a heart attack or gets cancer, it is automatically presumed to be job related.

Shortsleeve: “For the most part the doctors go along with the presumption.”

Connarton: “That is correct.”

Shortsleeve: “And they presume that if its lung cancer…it was caused by the job.”

Connarton: “Yes.”

But firefighters who contacted the I-Team and did not want to be identified say the “no smoking” policy is rarely if ever enforced.

“You sign a paper when you get the job and say you will refrain from using these products.”

“Tobacco use is way up these days, it is pretty prevalent. It is unbelievable.”

“So the citizens of Massachusetts are eventually going to be paying the pensions of these people who swore they would never smoke and now they are going to walk out the door with a tax free pension that you and I going to pay for.”

The I-Team took pictures outside two fire stations. Our cameras captured a deputy smoking. There was another firefighter smoking in front of the Waltham station. And the I-Team watched as a firefighter in Watertown smoked while other firefighters walked by.

Ed Kelly is the President of the Massachusetts Fire Fighters Association. He says local chiefs should enforce the no smoking rule. But Kelly says firefighters should be offered treatment, not termination.

“It is disturbing,” he says. “I don’t feel good about it. It is not the image we want to portray.”

“I think there is a better more logical approach to it.”

Kelly wants the state to offer “quit smoking” programs to firefighters. But lawmakers told the I-Team they don’t see that happening.

MORE LOCAL NEWS FROM CBS BOSTON

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