This one occurred in a Baltimore firehouse. Like the swastikas at GWU last month, it also turns out to have been a hoax to create victims where there were none.

The rope incident sparked outrage two weeks ago and prompted a federal investigation into possible civil rights violations. It was the latest in a series of incidents that have cast the Fire Department in a poor light over the past year, including the death of a recruit in a training exercise and accusations of racism.

The news of the hoax came a day after a report released by the city’s inspector general found that the top performers on two recent Fire Department promotions exams likely cheated amid lapses in testing security.

A black firefighters group had called accusations of cheating racially motivated after union officials questioned the test scores. But the investigation found that five African-American firefighters had studied by using a 2001 exam, which is against test protocol.

On Nov. 21, a handwritten note and a rope were discovered about 1:30 a.m. by two Fire Department employees – one black and one white. It read, “We cant [sic] hang the cheaters but we can hang the failures. NO EMT-I, NO JOB.” A small stick figure with a noose and the word “Stop” were drawn below the message.

The note appeared to refer to the cheating investigation and a push by top fire officials to compel emergency medical technicians to become certified as paramedics.

The perp:

A firefighter who reported finding a knotted rope and a threatening note with a drawing of a noose in an East Baltimore station house last month had placed the items there himself, city officials said yesterday.

The man was suspended last week for performance-related issues and will likely face additional punishment, fire officials said. Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the Police Department and for Mayor Sheila Dixon, said the man admitted to the hoax and will not face criminal charges.

Officials identified the firefighter who they say acknowledged writing the note as Donald Maynard, a firefighter-paramedic apprentice who is black. Maynard could not be reached for comment.

I imagine he’ll avoid the phone for some time to come.

At the time of the noose incident two weeks ago, city and fire officials characterized it as a possible hate crime. It was a proverbial big deal.

An FBI spokesman based in Baltimore said Wednesday that the bureau had opened a preliminary inquiry into possible civil rights violations stemming from the incident. She declined to comment further on the case.

Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, president of the NAACP’s Baltimore chapter, referred to the note as a threat and said it should be treated as such.

“It’s got to go federal,” Cheatham said.

Joseph Armstead, a former firefighter and current vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said a culture of racism has always existed in the city Fire Department.

“I’m not really shocked or surprised,” said Armstead, a firefighter for 16 years. “It’s just getting outward now. And we’re not going to tolerate that.”

Now it looks like a hate hoax. But it’s still fundamentally based on a racist attitude. Like the GWU incident, the perp gets a slap on the wrist, and there will be more of these hoaxes until those responsible for them have to pay a serious price.

Meanwhile, still no word on Columbia University’s noose incident.