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Floodgates open on protest SMACSS with chiefs the biggest offenders

10 fire chiefs & firefighters dismissed or under investigation over social media posts & comments

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One of the best messages I’ve received from a firefighter in recent days was this: “We just received an email from our Base Commanding Officer to  ‘not harm our careers with our mouths and tweets’.” That’s a smart officer. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a growing number of people who aren’t being cautions about how they use social media.

The floodgates have opened. STATter911 has found 10 cases over the past week where members of the fire service have been dismissed, disciplined or currently under investigation for social media comments about the protests. Six of those incidents involve chief officers.

We’re in the middle of enormously challenging times. Emotions are on display all around. If you’re in fire or EMS in a community where there have been large protests there’s a good chance you or your colleagues have been under attack, verbally and/or physically. It’s also likely you have strong feelings about what you’ve witnessed in person or in the news. The message from that commanding officer speaks to an important issue for all in public safety: Sharing your opinions or emotions publicly may conflict with the mission of your department and result in discipline that could include separation from the department either temporarily or permanently.

In the past, large protests across the country also brought a flood of SMACSS cases. SMACSS stands for Social Media Assissted Career Suicide Syndrome. We’ve already shared two SMACSS stories this week, one from Orange County, New York and the other from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. Here’s a list of the other eight cases that ended badly after fire chiefs and firefighters have publicly shared their thoughts about the protests and protesters:

Rio Vista (CA) battalion chief loses job:

Rio Vista Fire Department Battalion Chief Brandon Vaccaro joined the unemployment line Monday, with Fire Chief Jeff Armstrong telling The Reporter a social media post was the cause.

Vaccaro’s post on a public social media page concerned shooting looters and others who destroyed property as the county, state and nation remain convulsed with rage, riots and protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a death captured on a cellphone recording.

The post read: “Start blasting!!!! They will go home. Once they see their dead friends on the freeway things will calm quick.”

Lincoln Fire Department (IL) chief apologizes:

The chief of the Lincoln Fire Department issued a written apology Thursday for sharing a Facebook post that said Trump supporters would blow the heads off of looters.

Chief Bob Dunovsky said the decision to share the post “was made in haste and without much thought” and that he didn’t have any ill intent when he did it.

West Virginia fire chief removed from state commission:

The chief of the Gilmer County Volunteer Fire Department is no longer on the West Virginia State Fire Commission after social media posts the governor called inappropriate and inflammatory.

One of the posts sent to 5 News shows Hess wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “All Lives Splatter,” picturing a car running over people.

“Nobody cares about your protest. Keep your (expletive) out of the road,” the rest of the shirt reads.

North Carolina chief steps down:

A Pamlico fire chief has resigned as a result of comments he made on Facebook referring to the “Die-In” held Saturday at New Bern City Hall.

Steven Jennings had been chief of the Triangle Fire Department, serving Alliance, Stonewall and Bayboro, for four years.

On an unidentified post showing a photograph of protesters lying on the ground around City Hall, Jennings had commented, “Oh please come lay on the road in front of my driveway. You will quickly become a greasy spot in the highway.”

Texas firefighters placed on paid administrative leave:

A Texarkana, Texas firefighter is on paid administrative leave in response to a “racially charged” statement made on a social media post, city spokeswoman Lisa Thompson said in a news release Tuesday.

The employee was not named in the news release, but KTBS learned the firefighter is Clay Phillips.

Phillips posted on Facebook, “Cut off their government assistance and see how long they keep this nonsense up These punk ass thugs have no stake in America. They don’t contribute anything to society so what does it matter if the burn out country to the ground? All they have ever know is take take take. Who’s entitled???? Damn sure isn’t the people that get up and work everyday and never get any assistance from the government. Arrest the looters and arsonist!!!! If you are out in the streets after curfew arrest all of them with whatever force is necessary and tag them never to get government assistance again!”

North Carolina firefighter dismissed:

A local firefighter, who came under fire following racist comments made in a social media message, has been dismissed from his department.

Blaine Shellhorn, a former a volunteer with the Ellis Cross Country Fire Department, replied to a Snapchat message from a former fellow student regarding peaceful protests that took place Sunday near the “Fame” statute. In his response, Shellhorn used a racial slur directed at the black female recipient and expletives. Later the same night, he issued an apology via the social media site Facebook, which reportedly has been removed and the account deactivated.

Gainesville, Georgia firefighter under investigation:

Gainesville officials are investigating a city firefighter making an “inappropriate, distasteful and baseless remark regarding the citizenship status of some demonstrators” on social media during overnight protests, City Manager Bryan Lackey said in a Facebook post Sunday, May 31.

“We’ve also been told this comment has since been deleted,” he said.

Oregon fire chief on non-disciplinary administrative leave:

A local fire chief is denying he posted messages saying rioters should be shot, claiming his Facebook page was hacked.

John Wooten, head of South Lane Fire and Rescue, said his personal Facebook page has been taken down.

However, Wooten’s posts about looters go back at least two months.

In one post, Wooten wrote, “So I made the comment we should shoot the rioters and someone asked me how I could possibly do that. I replied it depended on distance, wind, temp, humidity and a few other variables but once I had the calculations done it would be a matter of breathing control and trigger squeeze.



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