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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I beleive he states a good point in this video. Doctors dont always do what they should. Should he have been fired? probably not. I may have missed it but i didnt hear any specific hospital names or fire department. If some average joe would have made this they'd become an internet sensation. I like to have fun and have a great sense of humor. I love this mans videos. He shouldn't have been fired. Perhaps a written warning or asking him to remove the videos. I hope this doesn't ruin his career in public service. I know with my department they would all love the videos. People need to have a sense of humor in life and not be so up tight.
I have seen a lot of these cartoons on Youtube.com and a lot of them are hillarious, they are more sarcasm than anything else, I havent seen any with specific departments or names on them, how can you get Fired for being creative, isnt this free speech, what happened to the Bill of Rights here?
Doesn't matter how you spin it, the rest of these employees will just work in fear of termination. We might want to keep people as a priority because they are valuable, would you terminate yourself for the same thing.....honestly!
There are alot of issues with this case - due process, 1st Amendment, did he identify himself with his FD or not, was it racially derrogatory, etc. etc. etc. But I think the bigger story is - these types of problems are happening more and more across the country. And they will become even more prevelant as time goes on.

Fire departments need to have written policies to address what is and is not permissable when it comes to social media. That way the department can be protected from someone who posts something illegal, immoral, or otherwise bad - in that they can take action- but it will protect all the rest of firefighters because everyone will know beforehand what is and is not permissable. Relying on "conduct unbecoming" or some similar vague provision just doesn't cut it.

Without a clear policy - its anyone's guess about what is and is not permissable. You might think something is fine, the chief might think its bad, and he puts you up on charges. The written policy lays it all out there before hand.

Just my 2 cents. I'd rather know where the boundaries are and not have to guess.

I blogged about this at www.firelawblog.com

http://firelaw.typepad.com/fire-law/2010/02/sc-firefighter-paramedi...
Well I gotta say that the video is kinda funny. He did us a doctor's name in the video, but not in a derogetory way. The doctors name is mentioned only as a reference to another individual. Long story short, I think this is a situation where both parties are right. I have seen this type stuff play out alot, from first responders being called out to assist a patient with stomach pains, to ambulance crews being used as taxi services, to fire fighters being used to wash out drains. I really think this guy was venting and didn't mean any harm. I tend to agree with the posters earlier who said remove the video and apoligize, not only written, but in person, to hopefully smooth out any bad blood and preserve good working relationship with the affected hospital. Repromand the FF/medic in house and move on.

As for the lawsuits, IT'S A CRAP SHOOT (50/50) YOU WIN SOME YOU LOOSE SOME!!!
I have one phrase fro anyone who ever wants to post on the web and might be subject to arbitrary firing for doing so, I call it, "Nom-de-Net.

Post anything which gores anywhere in the neighborhood of the "gray zone" of non-PC, post it under your Nom-de-Net, and do not list your department, name or even your hometown anywhere in your personal data/Profile. Keep it anon..



Sad that an employment contract overrides your First Amendment Rights as an American, but they do.

Greenman
Thie one in question used a person"s real name and the firefighter posted it in a way that made him and his department identifiable. This isn't a freedom of speech issue. Using the doctor"s name may have exposed the firefighter to libel/slander lawsuit. Since the firefighter was identifiable. the department may get dragged into potential liability. The department certainly has the right to take steps to limit that liability.
Curt, Colleton County has a policy that covers "maintaining harmonious relationships with the public', linked above. By identifying the physician by name and doing it in a way that made the firefighter and his department identifiable, he pretty clearly violated this policy, even if they don't have a clear social media policy.
This video used a physican's name and potentially exposed the firefighter and the department to slander/libel lawsuit exposure. That's not spin, that's legal laibility that was created simply because the firefighter wasn't smart enough to avoid using the physician's name.

That is what makes this different than the other videos of this type that are funny and that are pointed at stereotypes is that this one singled out an individual by name.

The department had the right to terminate him. Colleton County isn't populated by lots of firefighters and paramedics who live in fear of termination. 80% of their firefighters are volunteers/ I know quite a few of their firefighters, and none of them work in fear.

The department didn't just have the right to fire the firefighter, they had the obligation in this case.
David, well in my department you would be fired because we have the same policy as I referenced, plus we have a clear social media - internet useage policy as well.

We can be fired for using FB or Myspace while on the the city computer system.

With your concern that people are a priority and valuable.... I guess you have never had to deal with a fireable offense? Sometimes employees whether you see them as valuable or not are a liability.

What kind of question is that anyway, even chief's have a boss, most likely a city or town manager would fire you. Therefore yes, I would expect that my next in line supervisor, (even if I was the fire chief) would fire me.
Ben

I saw that - but can you tell me what "maintaining harmonious relationships with the public" means? I would assume if i try to start a union in South Carolina I would run afoul of that regulation. What if I ask for a raise, demand to be paid overtime for work over FLSA maximum hours, or sue the city for one reason or another? Could I be charged with violating the "harmonious relationships" provision? Where is the line?

The US Supreme Court has repeatedly said that rules and regulations are invalid if they forbid or require the doing of an act "in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess as to its meaning and differ as to its application." Zwickler v. Kota (1967).

You definitely raise valid points tho'. Naming the doctor... ouch.... the Court has said that even vague provisions can be upheld where its violation obvious enough. I still think chiefs need to get a policy together for the sake of their FD and more importantly their FFs.
Curt did you see in their policy 15.3A (12) which states, any 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.

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