An attorney representing two firefighters disciplined in connection with a September firehouse prank involving a masked gunman argued at a Wednesday hearing that one firefighter was fired and another was demoted unfairly “because the public found out what happens in the fire department.”
Judd Drake, the attorney representing the City of Macon, argued that Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins was justified in firing firefighter Christopher Hughes and demoting Sgt. Joshua Brewer to a private following the Sept. 18 incident.
The firefighters appealed the punishment Wednesday in a hearing held before an administrative law judge. A decision is anticipated within 10 business days.
While Brewer has admitted he posted a video of the hoax which involved a masked gunman threatening firefighters in a fire station on Peake Road, he testified Wednesday that the prank didn’t match his understanding of the definition of an initiation or hazing listed in fire department policy.
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He said officers gave descriptions of prior incidents that occurred at the fire department including one in which rookie firefighters’ genitals were painted as examples of hazing and an initiation. He reasoned that the Sept. 18 prank didn’t involve a rookie being physically touched.
Brewer and Hughes testified they’d witnessed several other pranks and weren’t aware of anyone being demoted or fired for their participation in the incidents.
In his testimony, Hughes admitted he’d furnished the BB gun used by the masked gunman and had recruited a friend to participate in the hoax. But he said he wasn’t the “mastermind” of the stunt.
Both men said they acted based on directions given by then-Capt. Stephanie Burke who was acting as battalion chief that night.
Riggins also testified that he’d been a victim of a prank in the past, but that he couldn’t recall whether anyone had been punished for a similar prank in the past.
Before issuing the punishment, Riggins said he conducted interviews with all the firefighters involved and reviewed their personnel records.
While Riggins said the department was “inundated” with calls after the video was discovered online, he said he’s not sure he’d say it became a political issue.
Riggins said he felt Brewer and Hughes participating in the hoax was “unbecoming of a firefighter.”
He said he expected Brewer, as a supervisor of other firefighters, to practice better judgement.
When asked why Hughes’ conduct warranted termination, Riggins said “I felt that the behavior and conduct of Mr. Hughes was inexcusable. He had totally crossed the line.”