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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Having watched, and listened carefully to, this video several times I found that neither the FF/Paramedic nor the Doctor are identified, neither are the FD nor the Hospital.

"Dr. Ward" is mentioned as someone who would discipline the doctor in the video if he found out the Doctor had neglected the patient and disregarded inter-facility transfer protocols.

How many "Dr. Ward"s are there in North America?

Greenman
I did. Like I said to Ben.... where is the line. If I try to form a union have I damaged the relationship with the community? What if i file suit? Can I be fired because it might damage goodwill in the community?

These are not easy questions.
Good advice
I understand your point, but in this case, the firefighter-paramedic and the department had a clear professional relationship with the emergency physician, who works the ER at their only hospital. Posting the derogatory video on the firefighter's Facebook page (that coincidentally identified the firefighter as a Colleton County Fire-Rescue employee) that targets a physician to which this firefighter-paramedic takes patients every third day is definately going to adversely affect that "harmonious relationship".

Asking for a raise - you'll likely just be told "no" unless the raise is an across-the-board cost-of-living raise or a merit rasie based on your annual performance evaluation. No policy violation, just "No".

If you try to start a union local, that's fine. Several S.C. fire departments have them. However, there is no collective bargaining in S.C. and it's illegal for public safety employees to strike, so good luck getting a union local that is anything more than a social club. There are one or two exceptions, but they get their positives from public relations, not from being a union local. No one gets fired for union organizing, but the unions simply don't matter much, so it's not a big deal.

Public employees sue the city (or county) all the time. I don't know of a single case in which the employee lost his/her job over the suit. However, most of the suits are post-termination for something else, and the terminations are usually justified, so there's not much of an issue there.

There have been several FLSA overtime cases in SC. The employees won every one of them, and the employers generally have stopped playing the "reverse overtime" (1/2 pay instead of 1-1/2 time pay for OT) game since the back pay cost so many employers so much money and bad press.

I don't see Colleton County's rule as being vague as applied to this case. If you post something that ridicules someone with whom your only relationship is a professional paramedic-physician relationship (medical control relationship), your only contact with the physician is in the work setting, and you identify yourself as the creator, that's going to a) cause problems at work, b) potentially open up the firefighter/paramedic to libel/slander liability, and potentially drag the department into sharing that liability.

I don't think it matters if the ff/pm posted from work or privately/off duty, either. He clearly was identifieable by agency and he used the physician's name, which is still visible in the video.

I have no doubt that this termination will hold up, as the "harmonious relationship" workplace rules that were broken, based on the things outlined in the termination letter.
I do, too...a slander lawsuit by the physician against the recently-terminated firefighter-paramedic.
It did have something to do with his job. The person that created and posted the video has a professional relationship with the physician he identified by name in the video. That physician provides medical control to that county's firefighter-paramedics when he is on duty. Further, the physician may have grounds for a lawsuit against the firefighter-paramedic.
A simple cartoon that lampoons one of the physicians who provides medical control for the department, and who is identified by hame as the topic of the vidow isn't just a "simple cartoon".
You make a compelling case.
He posted it on his Facebook page, which clearely identified his relationship with the department. He also used a specific physican's name as the target of the video. He does need a lawyer ASAP - to defend him against the slander lawsuit the physician might file against him.
Thanks. Your questions are good ones, and I can think of ways in which the policy we're discussing might be too vague to enforce.

The trick in writing policy is to make it generic enough that you don't end up with an unreadable library of trivial rules that aren't enforceable due to simple volume, and rules that are so vague that they are meaningless.

It's easier to pick apart someone else's rules than to write good ones yourself.
(Don't ask me how I know that one...)
Greenman, look again. The physician's name is not as common as "Dr. Ward" and it is visible in the video link above, with the initials H.V.

I also seriously doubt that Colleton County's procedures for resolving physican issues with EMS involves ridiculing the physician in a cartoon on Facebook.

The firefighter identified himself when he posted the video on his Facebook page, where he also identified himself as a member of CCFR.
OKay, you're correct about that.

To someone who does not know the hospital or the personnel being reference it looks pretty anonymous, but to someone who does know them it probably is easily identifiable.

He should have made it completely unidentifiable or not made it at all.

Greenman

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