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BCFES firefighter claims dismissal

Read previous story: Whistleblowing retaliation suits filed against BCFES, chief.

One of the two firefighters who filed suit against Bryan County Fire and Emergency Services and its chief July 7 was “constructively dismissed,” her attorney said late Friday, meaning she was forced to resign.

Former BCFES Division Chief Summer Patterson was quoted as saying she was “devastated” in a press release sent by Savannah attorney Brandy Mai.

“I have 20 plus years of experience in EMS and a degree in emergency management,” the release quotes Patterson as saying. “Being Division Chief at BCFES was my ‘forever job.’ I worked with amazing professionals who took oaths and dedicated their lives to protecting and saving others. I couldn’t stay silent when I saw high-ranking members of our agency putting personnel and the community at risk. I’m devastated at being forced out, but I hope my voice can help others and keep our community safe,” Patterson said.

Patterson and Lieutenant Sarah Bradbury filed separate suits in Bryan County Superior Court alleging they were retaliated against for reporting a pair of high-ranking BCFES employees for policy violations.

Bradbury said it was her duty to come forward, according to the release from Mai.

“I have a duty and responsibility to report things that threaten the safety of our citizens and the fine men and women of BCFES who serve this community. It is every firefighter and officer’s job to create an ethical environment that encourages growth while supporting the organizational mission. When those things cease to exist, so do the history, culture, and values of the fire service,” Bradbury.

Copies of the suits were emailed to local media July 9 by an anonymous source claiming to be a BCFES employee.

Both “whistleblower” lawsuits name the department and Chief Freddy Howell as defendants. Both are seeking damages.

Howell, who has been chief since 2012 and was named Fire Chief of the Year in 2014 by the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs, declined comment, but Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor issued a statement last week when the suits became public. “We do not comment publicly on pending litigation or personnel matters,” Taylor said. “We look forward to defending ourselves in a court of law. The Bryan County Emergency Services is comprised of professionals who are dedicated to protecting and caring for the public in emergency situations. Bryan County maintains a zero tolerance policy and prohibition on all forms of discrimination, sexual harassment, and other misconduct in the work place.”

The suits include several allegations by the women, ranging from retaliation to discrimination after the women reported two unnamed but high-ranking firefighters of misconduct ranging from sleeping on the job to smelling of alcohol.

A bullet point list of accusations provided by Mai includes everything from civil conspiracy and falsifying public records to intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to provide a workplace free from sexual assault, harassment, failure to train, discrimination, or retaliation and interference with and retaliating against someone for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The women also allege they were retaliated and discriminated against in various ways, including verbal assault and a conspiracy to “alter testing scores and subsequent denial of promotions; rescinding of previously offered employment positions; assignment of additional duties; removal of previously granted authority; creation of a hostile work environment and refusal to allow opportunities for recertification,” as well as the constructive discharge of Patterson, Mai said in her release.

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