Breathalyzing the bar-goers of the Sonoma Plaza

Little is known about the breathalyzer, even to the bar’s owner Stephen Moore who said someone installed the machine three years ago to help support local fire departments.|

Stuffed away in a corner of the Sonoma bar Town Square is a breathalyzer machine, where patrons like Jasmine Ramirez test their intoxication — in this case, after two glasses of sparkling wine and a shot of tequila.

But little is known about the breathalyzer, even to the bar’s owner Stephen Moore who said someone installed the machine three years ago to help support local fire departments. He said he doesn’t even know when the coins in the machine are emptied.

“It was a fundraiser. And that's exactly what it said... I do anything I can for the fire department,” Moore said, adding that “somebody comes in and takes the money out of there and it goes toward the fire fund.”

As a retired San Francisco firefighter, Moore was sympathetic to the hardships of firefighting and allowed the breathalyzer to be installed, with the proceeds going to charity. But he knew little about how the proceeds were used.

The Index-Tribune contacted a phone number on the side panel of the breathalyzer, which connected to a contractor for the nonprofit EZ2 Fundraise. The man, who identified himself as Matthew David, is a contractor who installs breathalyzer machines on behalf of the Maryland-based nonprofit National Foundation for Fallen Firefighters.

Though David was on a Mediterranean cruise and had a shoddy cell phone connection, he was able to say that the breathalyzer had not been serviced for the past two years and money from the machine went to the National Foundation for Fallen Firefighters.

How to play

Each reading from the machine requires four quarters that often need a Fonzie-like smack to the side of the machine so the quarters will drop.

The machine then directs the user to grab a straw from a dispenser at the bottom, insert it into a hole in the machine and blow through the straw until a blood alcohol content reading is confirmed.

When Ramirez blew into the breathalyzer on Sept. 27 she scored 0.142, before launching into stories about her previous times at Town Square.

Moore said that while he can’t confirm the accuracy of its results, he believes the machine can give patrons a general sense of their inebriation.

“Depends on what you're drinking. If you take a shot of whiskey, you’ll knock it out. If you're drinking beer, it's gonna be low,” Moore said. “I'm not gonna say it's 100% (accurate), but it might give you an idea of just where you're at.”

Bartender Megan McNeilly said the breathalyzer often goes unnoticed by longtime regulars, but “once people see it, everyone wants to do it.”

“It’s nice that it’s going to charity and it’s another thing they can do in the bar,” McNeilly said.

Drinking for a charity

The National Foundation for Fallen Firefighters deployed these breathalyzers throughout the United States.

While the organization was not able to provide statistics on individual breathalyzer machines, the proceeds it collects from the machines support programs that honor firefighters and reduce preventable firefighter deaths and injuries, according to Rebecca Nusbaum, the foundation’s director of development.

“We have support programs for the families of fallen firefighters including children’s bereavement camps, wellness conferences and retreats and scholarships. For the 2022-23 academic year, we’ve awarded 41 scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen firefighters totaling $508,159,” Nusbaum said in an email.

The National Foundation for Fallen Firefighters will host its 41st Memorial weekend Saturday-Sunday to honor firefighters who’ve died in the line of duty in 2021.

For Moore, the purpose of the breathalyzer is two-fold, a way to give back to the profession he served and a fun addition to the bar for customers to indulge in.

Just don’t ask if he’ll try it.

“My bartenders, when it first came in, all tried it. That was pretty funny because they came up zero — thank you very much,” Moore said before joking: “I’d probably max the thing out.”

Contact Staff Writer Chase Hunter at and follow him @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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