EMS providers face consequences following troubling social media posts about protests
Disparaging posts send local officials scrambling to rebuild trust during already tense times
By Laura French
“I told them I'd shoot and then kneel on their neck! Ha ha"
So read one social media comment posted by an EMS provider in recent days – a comment that underscores the dangers of public servants sharing disparaging material on social media.
Tensions are high across the country, as thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest police violence following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody late last month. Some demonstrations have turned into riots – and EMS providers find themselves responding to increased call volumes and, in some cases, being the target of attacks themselves.
Amid heightened stress, some EMS providers have posted troubling and controversial content on social media – and there have been consequences.
In Massachusetts, Brewster Ambulance Service took "immediate action" after EMT Barbie Gagnon made a Facebook post that mentioned running over rioters.
"At this point, my life, my partners life is worth more to me than my license... Jump in front of my truck and your gettin your [expletive] run over," Gagnon wrote, according to Boston 25 News.
Gagnon said her post was meant to be sarcastic and was taken out of context. It is unclear what action the company has taken.
In New York, Mobile Life Support Services fired EMT Robert Lukens for using the N-word to refer to looters.
"[Lukens'] behavior and statements are abhorrent," the service said in a statement. "We do not condone his thoughts, feelings, words, beliefs or actions and will not tolerate bigotry or discrimination in any form."
In New Jersey, a volunteer EMT and an appointed member of Carlstadt's volunteer Board of Health, Matthew Kronyak, was removed from his positions after commenting, "I told them I'd shoot and then kneel on their neck! Ha ha," referring to Black Lives Matter protesters in the borough.
In a Facebook exchange with a protester, Kronyak also wrote, "Are you a muslim? If so, nuff said terrorist," according to the NJ Advance Media Group.
The Carlstadt Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Carlstadt Police Department responded with a statement saying, "Actions and words that are contrary to our core values that are expressed by individuals actively or formerly in our organization are not representative of our organization."
In Delaware, Frankford Fire Company fired EMT, whose name was not published, for posting a TikTok video filmed at the fire station featuring her lip-syncing a comedian's voice saying, "I can solve racist cops ... only Black people should be allowed to be cops" and "white people can be firefighters. We're more outdoorsy," according to the Salisbury Daily Times.
"This video attempted to make light of racism within the police force. The content of this video undoubtedly calls into question the trust and respect from you that we have spent more than 80 years trying to gain," the fire company said in a statement. "There is no place for this type of action within our company or our profession."
In Louisiana, Paramedic Jamie Bergeron, also a popular musician, was fired from Acadian Ambulance following uproar over social media posts that referenced running over protesters, according to The Advocate.
"The posts and underlying insensitivity and disrespect shown by the posts are not in any way representative of our Company, our beliefs and values and the extraordinary work of the men and women who work for Acadian," the company said in a statement.
LEARNING THE LESSONS
Most public servants have heard the term “social media-assisted career suicide,” referring to just such posts that can derail – or end – a public safety career.
Severe consequences for social media misuse are not a new phenomenon spurred by the unrest of the last few weeks; in early May, Shelbyville Paramedic Robbie Smither was removed from the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services for his comments about police officers who arrested a woman who allegedly tested positive for COVID-19 and violated a court order to stay home.
"This is tyranny," Smither wrote, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I wish this lady would have used deadly force against these tyrants and then a jury nullify the case."
As David Givot, Esq. wrote in a past column, "EMS providers are held to a higher standard, which includes social media."
"Facebook and other social media outlets are dangerous and harmful ways to vent. The entire industry gets hurt and EMS providers become targets," Givot wrote, although he objected to agencies jumping to terminate providers. "Plenty of harm, plenty of foul."