Charleston Firefighter Claims Hazing Prank Cost Him His Hearing

A Charleston, South Carolina firefighter who claims he was the victim of a series of hazing incidents, has filed suit against the city and four firefighter-colleagues. George Bolovis filed suit in Charleston County Circuit Court alleging battery, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Bolovis claims the culmination of the hazing, a prank involving an “incendiary device” placed under his bunk, led to permanent hearing loss that prohibits him from ever serving as a firefighter again. As explained in the complaint:

  • Plaintiff, George Bolovis began employment with the City of Charleston in August 2019 and graduated from the 19-02 recruit class as a certified level 2 fire fighter.
  • When Plaintiff [originally from Queens, New York] joined the fire department, he was assigned to James Island, Station 13, in the City of Charleston.
  • Upon information and belief, the individual fire fighters stationed on James Island are all, if not mostly all, from James Island and the surrounding areas.
  • Upon information and belief, these fire fighters viewed Plaintiff as an outsider and made sure to treat him the same
  • On one occasion … Defendant Carter took Plaintiff on a night drive by themselves and informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff did not belong at the James Island fire station, would not be welcome there, and that Plaintiff would never fit in there because he was an outsider.
  • On multiple occasions, Defendant Carter requested Plaintiff put in a request for a transfer out of Defendant Carter’s Station on James Island.
  • One example of such hazing took place when Plaintiff was forced to drill, by himself, in full fire fighter gear, including his mask with oxygen, for extensive periods of time. This drilling served no purpose except to harass, intimidate, and abuse Plaintiff.
  • Another example of such hazing took place where Plaintiff was made to be the only person to clean the bathrooms in the Station, as he was the lowest ranking and newest member of the force.
  • Immediately after Plaintiff would finish cleaning the bathrooms, ranking personnel, and specifically Defendant Carter, would relieve themselves/ himself by urinating on the floor of the bathroom and then direct Plaintiff to go back in to finish cleaning the bathroom. This happened on multiple occasions where ranking personnel would urinate on the floor immediately after Plaintiff had finished cleaning and then instruct him to go back into the bathroom to clean it again.
  • On October 15, 2020, the date of the incident giving rise to this action, Plaintiff was again singled out and made to perform drills by himself wearing full gear including oxygen mask and other equipment.
  • After that hazing exercise ended, Plaintiff showered off and began his regular maintenance and cleaning duties around the station to include making up his bunk.
  • On the date of the incident giving rise to this action, Plaintiff was making up his bunk when he flipped over the bunk mattress to have it made up on Plaintiff’s preferred side of the mattress because there is a firm side and soft side.
  • When Plaintiff flipped the mattress over and it landed back on the bed frame, some type of incendiary device exploded from somewhere underneath his bunk.
  • Upon the explosion Plaintiff fell over onto the bed and then rolled onto the floor.
  • The explosion caused an extremely loud noise, which immediately made Plaintiff nauseated and caused pain and ringing in his ears.
  • The explosion from the incendiary device created so much sulfuric smoke that the crew had to open up the doors and windows of the fire station and turn on all of the fans to vent out the smell and smoke from the station.
  • Right after the explosion, while Plaintiff was still on the ground, Defendant Carter came out of his office in the adjacent room and asked Plaintiff what happened telling Plaintiff that he thought that Plaintiff had brought a gun to work and shot himself in the head.
  • Defendant Carter’s comment demonstrates his actual knowledge of the hazing and its severity such that Defendant Carter thought Plaintiff might have been so suicidal that he brought a gun to work to kill himself there at the fire station.
  • Defendant Carter then walked back out of the bunk room without offering aid or saying anything else to Plaintiff and leaving Plaintiff lying on the floor.
  • When the explosion happened Plaintiff immediately reported to his supervisors and ranking department employees the injury to his ears, ringing, and terrible headache that he was experiencing.
  • Not one of Plaintiff’s supervisors or ranking personnel took any action in response to the incident.
  • Plaintiff was not offered any medical assistance or evaluation.
  • No report was made by Plaintiff’s fellow employees or supervisors to the City of Charleston or Fire Department leadership on the date of the incident about what happened or the harm to Plaintiff.
  • After the explosion, Plaintiff finished out his shift in the computer room and on his bunk and then went home.
  • After the incident, Plaintiff was pressured by his supervisors, including Defendant Carter and Defendant Morris, to not report the incident or his injury to the City of Charleston or the highest levels of the Fire Department.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants Carter, Morris, and Haigler each took overt steps to cover up the incident up to and including lying to ranking officials within the Fire Department about the incident and his/their knowledge thereof.
  • Plaintiff ultimately had no choice but to seek medical attention because he had persistent ringing in his ears, impaired hearing, hyperacusis, and ongoing headaches.
  • The explosion directly and proximately caused Plaintiff to suffer a permanent partial hearing loss to the extent that Plaintiff can no longer qualify to work as a fire fighter ever again.

WCSC Channel 5 quoted Charleston Fire Chief Dan Curia as having provided the following statement:

  • In October 2021, then-Firefighter Bolovis reported an injury to his ear/hearing after what he described as “a firework” went off under his bed. In addition to addressing the injury, the Fire Department immediately investigated and addressed the underlying conduct relating to the alleged firework. Apart from that incident, the City had no notice of the allegations in Mr. Bolovis’ lawsuit until its recent receipt of the complaint.
  • The City publishes and enforces policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination, including the kind of conduct alleged in Mr. Bolovis’ complaint, and it publishes the various ways in which violations can be reported. If Mr. Bolovis had availed himself of the protections of those policies, these allegations could have been immediately and appropriately addressed. Unfortunately, the City was not given that opportunity.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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