28 Oct 2016

Swiss firefighters' alcohol ban goes up in smoke

1:39 pm on 28 October 2016

Switzerland is easing an alcohol ban for volunteer firefighters, saying it had led to staffing shortages during crises, especially in smaller towns lacking professional personnel.

From 1 January next year, slightly tipsy volunteer firefighters and off-duty members of so-called professional 'blue light' organisations responding to urgent situations will be no longer face punishment - provided their blood-alcohol level does not exceed 0.5 percent, the limit governing other drivers.


The ban on volunteer firefighters has been lifted (file photo). Photo: 123RF

"This change is necessary as rescue and disaster relief organisations today are increasingly dependent on people who are not on duty or on call," the Swiss Federal Roads Office said in a statement.

"The government is addressing the need for the best-possible recruitment of personnel in the event they are needed for unexpected rescue operations."

The current ban on alcohol caps volunteer emergency service workers' blood-alcohol level at 0.1 percent.

Zurich emergency services commander Peter Wullschleger said the drinking ban remained in force for all firefighters who were on duty or on call and could expect to be dispatched to an emergency.

Easing the restriction for those who were not was primarily aimed at small communities with no professional firefighters that must rely on volunteers to be ready at a moment's notice.

"With the ban, theoretically it would have been impossible for somebody enjoying even a nice glass of red wine during the Christmas holidays to fulfill their duty in the event of an emergency," Wullschleger said.

The announcement represents the latest Swiss tinkering with laws on alcohol and occupational safety.

Last October, the Alpine republic closed a legal loophole that enabled cable car drivers to escape criminal prosecution if caught drunk on the job.