Firefighter loses battle to get job back in computer-porn case

A South Whidbey firefighter lost his apppeal Thursday to keep his job after being fired over an incident involving computer pornography.

FREELAND — A South Whidbey firefighter lost his apppeal Thursday to keep his job after being fired over an incident involving computer pornography.

Paul Hunsaker, 40, a Freeland resident and a part-time paid member of Island County Fire District 3, was fired Jan. 7 over what he said was a practical joke at the Freeland Fire Station.

He hired a lawyer from Seattle and has battled the decision for the past eight months. He maintains the punishment is too severe for the crime.

District 3 commissioners on Thursday first rejected Hunsaker’s request to reschedule the hearing so his lawyer could be present, then denied his appeal. Both actions were unanimous, and both came after closed-session discussions.

Hunsaker had agreed to discuss his appeal in closed session, hoping, he said, to be able to go over issues with the commissioners in a relaxed atmosphere. The hearing lasted about 30 minutes.

Commissioners Mike Helland, Bob Elliott and Kenon Simmons announced their decision on the appeal after consultation with the district’s lawyer, Paul M. Nordsletten of Seattle. All declined to comment.

The decision ends Hunsaker’s recourse with the fire district. His next step would be to take the matter to court.

“I’ll have to think about that,” Hunsaker said Thursday night after the commissioners’ meeting at district headquarters in Freeland. “I don’t know how much fight I have left.”

The computer incident took place Jan. 6. The next day, Hunsaker admitted he altered a fellow firefighter’s computer so sexually graphic images would pop onto the screen at unexpected times. He said it was a joke.

But on Jan. 6, the other firefighter was about to show a visitor to the fire station some photos he had taken when the pornographic material appeared on the screen. The visitor became disturbed and complained to district officials, Fire Chief Dan Stout said.

Hunsaker was fired the next day.

Stout reiterated in a May 30 meeting notice to Hunsaker that Hunsaker’s actions violated district policies. Stout also wrote that Hunsaker previously had taped derogatory statements on the backs of firefighters’ jackets, had altered settings on the computers of district personnel and engaged “in conduct toward volunteers that some have described as hostile.”

In the past six months, Hunsaker has received written support from other firefighters, and four of them were at Thursday’s hearing to show their support.

All said they agree the punishment is too harsh, and that the district is losing a dedicated firefighter it spent thousands of dollars to train at a time when it’s becoming difficult to find volunteers.

According to the terms of his firing, Hunsaker, who has been with Fire District 3 since 2001, will not be permitted to volunteer with the district.

Hunsaker has been a member of the department’s elite Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee, a specially trained unit for rescuing people from vehicle crashes. The unit has taken part and scored well in national competitions.

Hunsaker also said he has received several commendations from the district, has enthusiastically taken part in community awareness and charitable activities on behalf of the district, and has been pursuing specialized training to prepare for a career in firefighting.

“It’s not about the money,” said Hunsaker, who owns a roofing company. “I want to serve my community.”

“No one ever criticized my professional performance,” he continued. “I hate to see all my good work cancelled by one action.”

“I offered to apologize to the man,” Hunsaker added. “I made one mistake, and I want to find a way to be forgiven.”

More in News

Police probe Walmart scuffle

A woman and her teenage daughter attacked an employee at the Oak Harbor Walmart Thursday.

South Whidbey student arrested for alleged threat

Superintendent Moccia wrote the student was “emergency expelled” until an investigation is completed.

Naked golfer accused of chasing deputy, stealing car

A naked man chased a deputy, demanded the fleeing officer’s gun and ranted about aliens.

Proposed development in Langley draws concern

The housing development is proposed for a location near Coles Road.

See caption
Winter clothing drive, fundraiser seek to wrap refugees in warmth

As winter sets in, there is a dire need for everyone to be dressed warmly.

Oak Harbor child molester reoffends, but sentence less lenient second time

Gary T. Boyer, 71, pleaded guilty in Island County Superior Court to third degree child molestation.

Election certification yields wins for write-in candidates

Voter turnout this year in Island County was 49%, well above the state average of 39%.

Man accused of killing dog with a hatchet

A judge found probable cause to believe 29-year-old Nicholas R. Anderson committed animal cruelty.

Superintendent contract renewed

The South Whidbey School Board renewed Superintendent Josephine Moccia’s three-year contract.

Most Read