Off-duty firefighter's 'Blackface' at Halloween party doesn't represent agency, Brevard fire chief says
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County officials are reviewing the actions of an off-duty Brevard County Fire Rescue firefighter seen in a heavily circulated photo wearing blackface at a beachside Halloween party.
The image of the 39-year-old firefighter — whose face was painted to appear dark-skinned, similar to the minstrel images once common decades ago as a derisive depiction of Black culture — was posted to social media earlier this week by a woman attending the same party, drawing heavy criticism from commenters about the portrayal.
Brevard County Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer, who oversees the department of more than 450 firefighters, said the veteran firefighter and paramedic identified as Jacob ‘Jake’ Johnson who works at Station 63 in Indialantic, was not working at the time of the Halloween party.
“His behavior does not reflect the values of Brevard County Fire Rescue,” Schollmeyer said in a text to FLORIDA TODAY.
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“Nor do his actions speak for the hundreds of hard-working firefighters in the agency doing great things every day,” he said.
The firefighter has worked with the agency, interacting frequently with the public, carrying out medical rescues, and responding to fire calls for 16 years, the agency’s human resources department said.
He is on vacation, and couldn't be reached Wednesday. He is expected to talk to supervisors when he returns, said Don Walker, county spokesperson.
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The photo, posted to the Instagram account of a friend, shows Johnson, with dark, brown coloring on his face, neck, and hands along with a woman dressed in a Cruella Deville-style costume and not wearing blackface and another man in blackface clutching a bloody machete. The other man’s identity was not immediately known.
"We got a copy of the picture Monday night. We are aware of the photo and are looking into it to see if there were any policy violations," Walker said.
The woman in the photo, the daughter of a firefighter, has since taken her social media pages down and apologized on another comment wall, saying she did not know about ‘blackface’ or its offensive history.
The woman refused comment about the photo to FLORIDA TODAY.
A smattering of similar incidents have taken place over the years involving first responders across the nation. In some cases, those involved with wearing blackface were suspended or fired. Some of the cases wound through the courts, with lawyers raising questions over First Amendment rights.
It was not immediately known when Johnson would return from vacation.
J.D. Gallop is a Criminal Justice/Breaking News Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JDGallop.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Blackface: Firefighter's actions don't represent agency, chief says