More Fallout Over Prank In Macon-Bibb County, GA

An additional disciplinary action has been announced by the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department following the YouTube video shooting prank that occurred on September 18, 2011. Yesterday, Fire Chief Marvin Riggins increased the punishment for Fire Captain Stephanie Burke from a 2 day suspension to a demotion and 20 day suspension.

The reason for the increase was the disclosure of text messages between Capt. Burke and firefighter Chris Hughes that showed she was much more deeply involved in planning the prank than was previously believed. Hughes was the only member terminated. A total of 8 firefighters have been disciplined.

Burke was demoted to Lieutenant, and based on Macon-Bibb’s schedule her 20 day suspension equates to roughly two months off without pay.  Burke, Hughes and the other disciplined personnel still have the right to contest their penalties.

More on the story.


About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • Some very simple lessons are in this story.
    (1) If you are in the fire service and it involves a gun, it is not a good idea; and
    (2) Any video you record can (and will) bite you in the ass so don’t record anything that you wouldn’t want the whole world to see.

    These guys were over the top stupid for doing this but I am not sure that I agree with the sanctions imposed. They seem a little on the harsh side. But since there was a gun involved, I imagine that the sanctions were meant to send a very strong message.

    • Thanks Anthony

      Once again I find myself in agreement with you. Sometimes this kind of horsing around is institutionally tolerated by FDs. Ranking officers look the other way at it… right up until they can’t any more. Then they over-react by firing and demoting those who are caught.

      I have alot of sympathy for those being punished when they are being punished for things that the organization tolerates. Sure – a line needs to be drawn, but true leadership requires establishing that line BEFORE the conduct occurs. If the boundaries are clear, and someone chooses to step over that clear line – then they get what they get.

      But if pranks are routinely tolerated – and except for the video this prank does not appear to be much different than past pranks – it’s not leadership to ruthlessly punish those caught – hoping the severity sends a message. That is strictly CYA.


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