Firefighter Fired Over Facebook Post of Virtual Firefighter Video

HATZEL VELA
WCSC 5
Reprinted with Permission

COLLETON COUNTY, SC - A Colleton County paramedic and firefighter was fired over a video he posted on Facebook.

On February 11, Jason Brown was called into the director's office and questioned about the video he posted the previous night.

The Facebook post takes you to a YouTube-like site, where a video almost three minutes in length shows an exchange between two cartoon characters at a hospital.

One is a doctor, the other a paramedic.

In a letter of dismissal Brown provided, Colleton County Fire-Rescue Director Barry McRoy said, "You [Brown] displayed poor judgment in producing a derogatory video depicting a member of this department with a physician which is implied to be at Colleton Medical Center."

"There was no malicious attack to anybody involved personally or countywide or any certain department ever," said Brown, who spent two hours making what he described as a text-to-movie video.

On the web site xtranormal.com, you can create characters and even make them look like you. Users can type in a script and the cartoon-like character will say what you write.

"I'm not trying to make any doctor or any nurse look stupid," Brown said.

He said he wasn't even talking about Colleton Medical. He only used the name of a doctor who works at that hospital because he had recently seen him at a party.

It was supposed to be a funny, exaggerated and an almost unbelievable story of real life on-the-job experiences, Brown said.

"It's just general things that go on in the day-to-day business of us running calls within any fire department, any EMS," he added.

The dismissal letter also said, "This video has created an embarrassing situation for this department, our public image and the cooperative relationship we enjoy with Colleton Medical Center. It reflects poorly on you and Colleton County."

Brown appealed the decision, but his appeal was denied.

[See the rejection of appeal letter (pdf).]

Brown never meant any harm, he said.

"If I knew it was going to give me this much headache, I never would have made it in the first place," he added.

Brown said he was told his video was racist because the cartoon character playing the doctor role was African-American and during one of the exchanges the character said, "I don't want to lose my job and go back to being a janitor."

"That was never, ever in my actions or even thoughts when I made the video," Brown said.

When making the video, a black doctor was the only option offered, he added.

Getting fired was a little overboard, he said.

McRoy wouldn't give details about the Brown's firing because he said he couldn't discuss personnel matters.

But he said the Facebook incident wasn't the only reason Brown was fired.

Brown said he has never been seriously reprimanded and points to the dismissal letter as proof the Facebook post was the only reason he was fired.

If asked to take down the post, he would have done it and that would have been the end, he said.

Brown said after he was fired, he was escorted to the station where he returned all his gear, while two officers supervised him.

"I felt like a criminal," he said.

Prior to working at Colleton County Fire-Rescue for three and a half years, he worked at Berkeley County EMS and Goose Creek City Fire.

He said he left those two places because Colleton County paid more.

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LOL you are right abot that
I think that there is another way of looking at this. If this was pursued in a real court (not just a local municipalities administrative branch), there would have to be an actual “law” that was violated, not just a department “policy”. Apparently, he has “lost” his case against the municipality. So I guess the issue of violating department regulations would not be the issue going forward. The issue would now be whether or not the firefighter’s freedom of speech was violated.

Sometimes there’s a gray area here, because a local municipality can make some federal laws “stricter”, but (in general) they cannot make them more “liberal”. In other words, if there is a federal law against calling pink people “bubble gum heads” than a local municipality could not make a law that would allow it to be okay. However, they could make the federal law “stricter” (maybe adding that you could not post cartoons on the internet that might be interpreted as derogatory about pink people). The federal government might be less likely to support your freedom of speech in this area.

I don’t remember where I learned this, but I recall that this would most likely be the difficulty with this firefighter’s lawsuit… local jurisdictions can sometimes make local laws “stricter”. I’m not saying that he wouldn’t win such a lawsuit; I’m just throwing my 2 cents in…

Joe Mc
No names or department names where used in the video. He needs to be getting a lawyer ASAP
People in all walks of life have GOT to get a sense of humor and quit being so sensitive! Geeze, what happend to free speach and fun?
give me a break,what happened to freedom of speech.He is a volly and the f.d. doesn't own him.
The location was never mentioned
The Dr mentioned was just a name, since there was no reference to a location
We are living in a sick society when someone that uses his talent making fun of what many of us have been through, then loses his job over it.

This guy should be congratulated for his cartoon abilities, this is funny stuff, (and truely describes some of that goes on)

1. What ever happened to free speech
2. Why do we live in a country where people kill each other daily, yet we cant have a little humor presented to us?
3. There is obvoiusly another reason for the firing, this is bullshit.
Bullshit beyone belief, this guy needs an award for developing a funny cartoon, many of us have had similar incidents and no one ever makes fun of that kind of stuff till now, then the cartoonest gets fired??????WTF
If the Dept policy says you cannot have fun, or practice free speech, the policy sucks and needs to be changed, or another cartoon made up of this whole incident
There was NOTHING about location there was nothing but a lot of entertainment since this stuff hit the web. And even if there was a reference to location, big deal- administration needs to find a real issue to work on.

Good luck Brown as you move forward in life, dont look back at that political crap, there are hundreds of departments that would like someone with your sense of humor and abilities on thier departments! Thanks for cheering us up, hang in there, the enemy we have in the fire service is NOT THE FIRE, IT IS THE POLITICS
Ralph, I'll look into my depts rules, but i don't recall ever hearing or reading any such thing in my bylaws. I understand we are looked up to by the civilian eye but we are entitled to our own opinion. I think its total bs my man got fired for a video. Its also bs you got called into the principals office over venting on facebook. I know you agree with me on the its our constitutional right to voice our opinion. Further more if a Doctor made a video with the ff/medic being bashded do you think he would lose his job I think not.
He need to look at his FIRE fighter bill of rights.
Here's the problem for Mr. Brown - he used the doctor's name in the video. That takes this out of the realm of "satire" and puts it into the realm of a direct personal attack on a specific person. Linking it in a social networking site that identifies the video's creator make it a direct attack on a specific person by a specific person.

Colleton County's disciplinary policy clearly states that employees are expected to maintain harmonious working relationships with the public. A personal attack on a local emergency physician clearly violates that part of Colleton County's policy. Folks, like it or not, that makes Mr. Brown's termination completely legitimate and appropriate. You may think the video is funny, you may have seen similar occurances in your area, or your union might protect you if you do something like this, but when you identify a specific person, this not only leaves the realm of "free speech", it might be a cause for legal action by the physician against Mr. Brown.

For those of you citing union contracts as protection for this type of activity; South Carolina does not have collective bargaining for public safety employees. Like it or not, if you want to work a fire-rescue career job here, you probably don't have a union local, and if you do, your union certainly won't have a contract - the agency simply doesn't have to recognize collectivve bargaining.

That said, I'll give a mandatory disclaimer here. I know Chief McRoy personally. He is a consumate professional who has worked miracles in improving services to a large, diverse county with limited resources, geographic obstacles, and lots of serious incidents. I firmly believe that he would not terminate an employee without a good reason that was a) legal, b) based upon agency policy, and c) the right thing to do.

Further, South Carolina is an "Employment at Will" state. That means that any public employer can terminate an employee for anything, everything, or nothing.

The take-away here is that if you want to post a humorous video, do it without identifying yourself as the author and don't put a real person's name as the subject of the video. If this had been posted anonymously and if the physician's real name had not been used, the department would likely never have gotten involved. I'm a major fan of free speech, but remember, free speech does not give someone the right to publically post something that affects his department's professional relationships with the public...including the local hospital "public".

I'm sure that a lot of you will disagree, but remember, we don't have a right to slander or libel a specific person just because we're off duty and on Facebook...or Firefighter Nation.
Well social networking rears it ugly side.... again.

I think we need to hear the whole story about the case. Was this movie made while on duty? IT can track your computer history people, if on duty, how is representing the department? Is this the only video made by this guy? I am not saying he made more than one but there are a bunch of these text-to-movie videos on youtube, now unless you use your real name on youtube, it is pretty much defended by "thats not me" but this guy used FB with his real name and admits to day to day operations which drive the storyline.

These videos are yes quite funny to us who work in fire or EMS, but in the big picture (outside world) they are completely unprofessional, vulgar and disrespectful to fellow employees, doctors, nurses, police officers, and one is even made with a female citizen in a restaurant.

I am sure the details of this news story are incomplete and further details were involved in the decision making process by administration. I have represented a few union firefighters over the years and after reading this guys disciplinary policy, if... they have a way to tie it to him and the other individual, well it is a justifiable termination.

Take note of the policy 15.3A (12) which states, Inmoral, unlawful or improper conduct or indecency, either on or off the job, which would tend to affect the employee's relationship to his or her job, fellow workers, supervisor, reputation or goodwill in the community.

That is just (one) subpart of this department's policy, which also states you could be terminated for any of them.

Lesson to learn from is: we all need to be professional on and off the job. For FD administrations: every fire department needs to have a specific computer/internet useage policy in this day and age. Websites like FaceBook, Myspace have absolutely nothing to do with your job, and are counter productive for work, establishes poor time management and ultimately waste taxpayers money.
I waited until I studied the policy, the termination letter, the appeal, and looked up SC statutes before posting a response. I also watched the video.

I think Ben stated every point that justified that disciplinary action. Sorry folks, it really appears to be just that cut and dry.

I feel that it would be very easy for someone to put 2 and 2 together and know who the physician is, the hospital, and fire department the video is referring to. It also comes close to meeting the criteria for slander, and the argument could be made for libel, against Mr. Brown, not to mention the reputation of the department, and to some degree, the fire service as a whole.

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