A total of three Columbia firefighters now have been fired over unprofessional Facebook postings aimed at Black Lives Matter protesters, and the city closed one fire station where the first post originated and put 31 others on precautionary lockdown, fire chief Aubrey Jenkins said Wednesday.
The Eau Claire fire station closed about 1 a.m. Monday after someone circulated its address on social media following Sunday’s protest, Jenkins said. It reopened at 8 p.m. Wednesday, he said.
Meanwhile, Richland County announced Wednesday it had fired a senior paramedic and said other ambulance service workers are under internal investigation for making inappropriate comments on social media. County officials declined to identify the paramedic or to disclose the language in the postings or to say who they were aimed at.
Jenkins said someone also called the Eau Claire fire station Monday to complain after now-fired Capt. Jimmy Morris first posted on Facebook his threats to run over protesters who had blocked the I-126 bridge during a march that started at the State House and wended its way through the city center to the interstate.
The call was not a direct threat, but the release of the station’s address worried Jenkins. “I felt a need to protect our firefighters,” he said. The Eau Claire station’s fire truck and four firefighters who were on duty Sunday night were moved to a nearby station, he said.
Fire department spokesman Brick Lewis said all fire calls to the Eau Claire station were answered from the nearby station.
Tensions during the protest and the responses on social media to posts by Morris and other firefighters prompted Jenkins to direct all of the 32 stations in the city and Richland County to close their bay doors and secure all other doors, especially while away answering fire calls, the chief said.
While the Eau Claire station reopened Wednesday night, the lockdown for all stations remained in effect at least through Thursday morning, at which time Jenkins said he will re-evaluate lifting it.
Jenkins said he does not know who circulated the station’s address and said he does not know if it was protesters, individuals who support Black Lives Matter or people just upset by what firefighters were posting.
“I think people were just angry,” Jenkins said.