A Macon-Bibb County firefighter maintained Thursday that his suspension after a 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 video prank, which showed a gunman threatening firefighters with a BB gun inside a Peake Road fire station.
White, a firefighter of three years, represented himself at the one-hour 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 in part 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 testified during the hearing, said White had an opportunity not to participate in the prank.
White violated city performance and conduct regulations and fire department guidelines concerning hazing and weapons at work, Riggins said.
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.
Firefighter Christopher Hughes testified at the hearing and confirmed that White didn’t participate in planning the prank or procuring the BB gun or firecracker used to simulate gunfire. Hughes has admitted that he brought the BB gun and lit a firecracker during the prank.
White said his part in the prank was falling to the floor and appearing scared.
Riggins played a video of the prank, posted to the YouTube website, during the hearing and identified White as one of the firefighters at the bottom of the screen. He was shown on the floor beside Burke and wearing blue coveralls.
White 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 while 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.
Robert Herndon, 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 Hughes and Joshua Brewer. Herndon also presided at that hearing.
Brewer, the firefighter who recorded the prank and posted a video to YouTube, was suspended for 10 days and demoted to fire private from the rank of sergeant. Hughes 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 the punishment was supported by substantial evidence.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.