Suspected overdose death of New Britain firefighter reveals drug use in department
NEW BRITIAN, CT (WFSB) - The death of a New Britain firefighter revealed a culture of on-the-job drug use within the department, a city investigation showed.
The drug use included Adderall, cocaine, marijuana and in some cases, heroin and fentanyl.
The city investigation led to an array of punishments and retirements.
One lieutenant was terminated, seven others were demoted, and a handful of others decided to retire.
On Jan. 26, New Britain firefighter Matthew Dizney died in his hometown of Southington, the city said.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Channel 3 that the cause of death was still pending. However, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said it was a suspected overdose.
“Because of that, there was a criminal investigation that started into his death,” Stewart said.
In a one-on-one interview, Stewart revealed the Southington police investigation bled into New Britain.
What it uncovered shook the fire department.
“There were a handful of other employees of the fire department that were potentially participating in this type of illegal drug activity,” Stewart revealed.
Stewart said the main drug abused was Adderall; however, there were also admissions of firefighters using heroin and fentanyl.
“There was at least one or two occurrences where we knew they were under the influence at work,” Stewart said.
Seven, including two lieutenants, were demoted, suspended and put on probation for three years.
They also agreed to random drug tests.
Lt. Michael Yagmin was terminated.
“The evidence was clear as day and he didn’t want to tell the truth about anything,” Stewart said.
His termination letter contained several text messages between Yagmin and Dizney that showed possible drug activity.
In the letter, the texts showed Dizney asking Yagmin for “buns” and “stacks”.
New Britain Police said the terms referred to 100 bags of heroin or fentanyl.
One text exchange read:
Another text exchange showed:
What was still troubling for Stewart and for New Britain residents was the fact that drug use, on or off the job, may still be flying under the radar.
That’s because the fire department still has not adopted random drug tests.
“How can we ensure public safety, that the public is safe when there’s no way to check it?” Channel 3 asked Stewart.
“I feel confident that the majority of the department that comes here to work every day to do their job, are trustworthy individuals but the reality is we need to make sure this policy exists. The unfortunate reality is that we are going to end up in court in order to get it,” Stewart said.
“We will help you as much as we can and ultimately, it may lead to you losing your job, but you may get the help you need,” said New Britain Fire Chief Raul Ortiz.
The city vowed to continue to push for random drug tests.
The police department and the city’s Department of Public Works has them.
For some reason, the city said the firefighter union has pushed back on the idea.
Channel 3 tried to get the answer as to why, but the union president didn’t return calls.
Without adopting random drug tests, firefighters can be tested through what is called “reasonable suspicion.” The chief said that’s not used very often.
If someone has reason to believe a fellow firefighter is using drugs, they can report it to their superior, and that person will be tested.
That process is not confidential.
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