Former hostages carry on with Gwinnett Fire Department

They were locked in a Suwanee house with a gun-toting man who was intent on confrontation. On that dire April day, four Gwinnett County firefighters were helpless and uncertain if they would get out of house alive.

An episode that started out as a routine call for medical help turned into a kidnapping and was ended by a SWAT team’s action. The gunman was killed but not before a police officer was shot.

Today, the quartet is back at work with fellow firefighters. But life is still not quite routine.

“It was scary. It was a life-altering experience,” said Tim Hollingsworth, a driver engineer who was one of the hostages. “I am more appreciative of the time I have and a lot more guarded around people I don’t know.”

On April 10, Lauren Holman Brown called 911, complaining of chest pains. Hollingsworth, Jason Schuon, Jody Moss, Chip Echols and Sidney Garner were dispatched to the Walnut Grove Way home to render aid.

When they entered the home, Brown brandished a gun and would not let the firefighters leave.

Brown, 55, had been having financial difficulties. His house was being foreclosed on and his cable and utilities had been shut off, authorities said. He demanded that his cable and utilities service be restored before he released the men.

Brown did let Moss leave to move their firetruck that was parked in front of his home.

“It was a very stressful and scary situation, because we didn’t know exactly what would happen,” Echols said.

Police negotiated with Brown for about four hours before a SWAT team stormed his house that evening. SWAT team leader Sgt. Jason Teague was shot by Brown in the arm. He quickly returned fire, killing Brown.

After surgery, Teague returned to light duty, teaching at a police academy, said Cpl. Jake Smith, of the Gwinnett County police department. In June, Teague underwent a second surgery and doctors estimate it will be about four months before he can return to active duty with the SWAT team, Smith said.

Teague declined comment because the incident is still under investigation. The firefighters are working to coordinate their schedules to meet with Teague so they can thank him for his service, Hollingsworth said.

The firefighters dealt with minor injuries from the incident, but are now healed.

Hollingsworth sustained a head was cut when a SWAT member’s gun accidentally struck him and he required staples to help close the wound.

Amazingly, the men only took one shift off work after the incident and were back on duty the next week, they said.

Two firefighters requested to be relocated after the hostage incident. Hollingsworth has moved to Station 21 in Suwanee, because he, “felt it was a good time for a change.” Moss relocated to Station 11 in Norcross, Hollingsworth said.

The men say they have used the situation as a learning experience. They are now more alert and conscious of their surroundings when on call, turning on lights in homes and calling the police department when they are unsure of a situation’s safety.

“Things are definitely different now,” Hollingsworth said. “You don’t have the same sense of security walking into the houses anymore. I am hypersensitive to my surroundings.”

Schuon said their ordeal also helped forge a bond between the men.

“It kind of brought us together,’” said Echols. “It is something we share and will have forever between us.”