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SKFR firefighter disciplined for Facebook message to patient

A South King Fire and Rescue (SKFR) firefighter was disciplined and charged with professional misconduct after contacting a patient he treated during an emergency response.

According to a personnel file, firefighter Brandon Church treated, evaluated and transported a patient to St. Francis Hospital while on duty Feb. 22, 2012. Two hours later, Church sent the patient a friend request on Facebook that was "personal and included sexual innuendo." The content of the message has not been disclosed.

SKFR learned about Church's action from a friend of the patient who is a firefighter at another fire department, according to documents. This was a violation of SKFR's code of ethics because it involved using privileged information — in this case, the patient's name — to initiate contact with the patient.

As a result, firefighter Church was placed on disciplinary probation for one year. He was also suspended for one shift.

Church is the son of SKFR Chief Allen Church. The chief referred inquiries in this matter to Assistant Chief Ed Plumlee and told The Mirror via email, "I have not been involved in this matter at all."

Plumlee, who is Brandon Church's direct supervisor, said the discipline was effective and the fire department has moved on.

"He made what I consider a mistake," Plumlee told The Mirror. "I think Brandon's doing great. This has happened, it's done. He's responded well to (the discipline) and it speaks well to the department's handling of the case."

In a letter dated March 13, 2013, Plumlee notified firefighter Church that he had successfully completed the terms of his probation, which included:

• Not having additional disciplinary misconduct charges

• Monthly evaluations completed by his company officer and reviewed by his battalion chief

• Studying several bylaws for the fire district, including SKFR's mission and values statement

• Completing a five-page paper to demonstrate his understanding of the violation and the material he was required to study

• Limited personal on-duty cellphone use, which was restricted to business or emergency calls

• An appointment with Dr. Lem Stepherson of the Employee Assistance Program

Other discipline

After nearly five years with SKFR, firefighter Church has three other disciplinary notices on file.

In July 2009, Church was confronted about spending excessive time on the computer while on duty, and was asked by supervisor Lt. Scott Ervin whether he was checking or posting to Facebook. Church denied it. When caught posting on Facebook again while on duty in August 2009, Church admitted he made a false statement about the July incident.

The same disciplinary notice reports that in July 2009, Church was caught cheating on a mapping test that covered main response routes. According to the report, on two occasions, "Church got up to look at a map and came back to his test to put down the answers." Church was retested in a "more formal atmosphere." According to the report's conclusion, "Church will discontinue lying or cheating, and will work on rebuilding the respect and trust he has lost with his peers. Further violations could result in formal charges."

In response to the 2009 reprimand, Church wrote that "the mistakes I made were inexcusable and will definitely not be repeated in the future."

On June 19, 2010, Church was reprimanded for insubordination after violating an order to not send text messages on his private cellphone while on duty. "Your company officer is concerned about your attention to detail and learning while at work," according to the disciplinary report.

On June 28, 2010, Church was reprimanded for giving a false and misleading statement. According to the disciplinary report, Church was asked if he was qualified to drive a fire engine. He answered in the affirmative, the report said, even though Church was told by his company officer that he wouldn't be qualified to drive until that officer "signed off on his ability to drive and operate the pump."

Learn more

To read the disciplinary documents discussed in this story, click here.

 

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