Two senior firefighters have been stood down on full pay this year after being found drunk on duty and another was "affected by alcohol" at a fire call.
In other incidents, firefighters have been reprimanded for drinking in their firetrucks, arrested for drink-driving, and a career firefighter received a final written warning after being found with drug paraphernalia.
The incidents are among a number involving firefighters under the influence of drink or drugs over the past five years, but the New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) says it does not have serious problems with either.
The Herald filed questions under the Official Information Act about alcohol and drug issues in the service after receiving a tip-off about a senior Bay of Plenty firefighter allegedly showing up to a job drunk.
An NZFS staff member raised concerns about the officer allegedly smelling of alcohol at a serious blaze late last year in a central Rotorua building. The firefighter was later cleared.
The figures released to the Herald show two senior firefighters have been suspended for being affected by alcohol while on duty this year, and another was found to be affected when called out to a fire but was not stood down.
The NZFS withheld the rank of several firefighters in a number of other incidents on privacy grounds as it believed it was "highly likely" providing this, along with the area concerned, would identify the officers.
Last year a firefighter was found with a small amount of cannabis, and senior Northland firefighter Colin Kitchen was convicted of driving with excess breath alcohol. The chief fire officer of the Kaitaia Fire Brigade, a volunteer organisation he had served for 43 years, blew 507 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.
The figures also showed staff "drinking on [an] appliance" and an "alleged symptom of a drinking culture" at a southern brigade in which the chief fire officer loaded beer into the fire truck in 2008.
The staff member received a final written warning but was dismissed after breaching it.
NZFS chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter said there had been a handful of incidents each year involving alcohol and drugs.
"In summary, of our total workforce of 10,000 personnel the reported instances of three to four instances per year involving drugs and alcohol is extremely low," he said.
"This appears to indicate how seriously our workforce take the professional performance of their duties. "When these matters come to light, we consider the NZFS acts appropriately."
The secretary of the New Zealand professional firefighters union, Derek Best, was aware of several of the incidents in the information given to the Herald.
He did not condone any of the incidents but said a good number of them happened outside work hours. He said there was a problem for staff, who were on-call but needed to have a normal life outside work. "You can't, when you're on call, sit around expecting a call to come, you have to have some sort of private life.
"But is there a drinking culture? I can remember starting about 25 years ago and there certainly was back then, but nowadays it's pretty much unheard of."
NZFS standards of conduct prohibit staff from actions outside work that may bring the organisation or their brigade into disrepute or call into question their suitability for their role.
Meanwhile, the Bay of Plenty fire officer cleared of wrongdoing told the Herald he still found it bizarre he had been breath-tested.
He said he'd been out for dinner the night before and was home early, but blamed an eye condition which made his eyes occasionally turn red. The NZFS said police breath-tested him at the scene of the blaze and he was cleared. "Perhaps it was because I looked a little dishevelled, I have no idea ... I was pretty annoyed, though."
Firefighters in trouble for alcohol or drugs
* 2012 (so far): 3, all while on duty
* 2011: 2 on alcohol charges and 1 found with drugs paraphernalia
* 2010: 1 found drink driving
* 2009: 2 affected by alcohol at fire call
* 2008: 7 including 3 drinking in the fire engine
* 2007: 2 including 1 convicted of drink driving for a third time.