A Macon-Bibb County firefighter maintained Thursday that his suspension in connection with a September firehouse hazing prank was unfair because a colleague who took a more active role in the prank received the same punishment.
An appeals hearing was held Thursday morning for Jessie White, one of eight firefighters disciplined following the Sept. 18 prank, which involved a gunman threatening firefighters with a BB gun inside a Peake Road fire station.
White, a firefighter of three years, represented himself at the hearing and said he’d never participated in a prank before.
He only participated in the Sept. 18 prank, he said, because it was planned by his commanding officer, then-Capt. Stephanie Burke, who was working as a battalion chief that day.
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“I felt it would be OK to follow her role,” he said.
Burke is scheduled to have a hearing later this month to appeal her demotion from the rank of captain to lieutenant, as well as a 20-day suspension.
Fire Chief Marvin Riggins, who also appeared at the hearing without a lawyer, argued that White had the opportunity not to participate in the prank.
He said White violated city performance and conduct regulations and fire department guidelines concerning weapons at work and hazing.
White argued that he didn’t have anything to do with planning the prank or anything to do with the BB gun used in the hoax.
No one physically touched the rookie firefighters who were targeted in the prank, he said.
White admitted that his part in the prank was falling to the floor and appearing scared.
He argued that it’s unfair that he was suspended for 10 days, the same punishment imposed on firefighter Christopher Houston, who came to the station off duty with ketchup on a white shirt and pretended that he was hurt. Houston didn’t appeal his punishment.
Riggins said White’s punishment was tailored to his actions. He characterized Houston’s part in the prank as that of an actor and said it was similar to White’s playing the part of a scared firefighter.
The administrative law judge who presided at the hearing is scheduled to issue a written decision within 10 working days of receiving a transcript from Thursday’s hearing.
Transcripts have not been completed for the appeals hearing held Dec. 14 for firefighters Christopher Hughes and Joshua Brewer.
Brewer, the firefighter who posted video of the hoax to the website YouTube, was suspended for 10 days and demoted to fire private from the rank of sergeant.
Hughes, who also brought the BB-gun and lit a firecracker to simulate gunfire, was fired.
An attorney representing Hughes and Brewer argued that the two firefighters were punished unfairly because the public became aware of the department’s culture, which has involved such pranks for years. Testimony was presented at the hearing regarding other pranks that didn’t result in comparable punishment.
An attorney representing the city argued that Riggins’ punishment was supported by substantial evidence.
Check back at Macon.com and read Friday’s Telegraph for more on this story.