Toronto's top firefighter said, 'In the public domain it's important for all of us to demonstrate a positive image of the Toronto Fire Service.' The same is true for fire departments throughout North America.
With the introduction of FACEBOOK and TWITTER (and other social media sites) what happens behind closed firehouse doors is no longer a well-kept secret. In the past, Fire administrators were very careful about what information was released to the public. Today, they no longer have the ability to strictly control information flow about department activities.
In today’s media environment, citizen journalists have the ability to instantly post commentary, images and video of emergency incidents without the necessity – nor the desire -- to interview participants or confirm details. Once a biased story is posted, the onslaught continues as no named commentators weigh in on tactics, staffing, equipment…even personalities of fire officers.
The information – whether it’s accurate or not – is often available online even before companies take up. The SHARE button allows that same mismanaged story, complete with demeaning comments from arm chair Battalion Chiefs, to be published throughout the fire-rescue community...and seen worldwide. I see it happen every day.
Fire-rescue agencies need to beat the “citizen journalists” at their own game. In many cities, department PIOs now publish working alarms as they happen, giving readers informed commentary thus heading off biased remarks. It is a wise practice to implement, because the citizen journalist is here to stay – and here to say!
It seems that larger departments are making the greatest strides in social media. But unfortunately, Volunteer agencies have been slow to adopt an effective social media reporting method. Dealing with social media in the volunteer fire service doesn’t require a by-law change or the addition of an elected officer. Every station has young men and women who are extremely knowledgeable in the ways of electronic distribution, and their input should be sought when determining the best way to deal with social media.
The post 9/11 love affair with the fire service is over, and much of that break up can be attributed to negative information published via social media. Fire-Rescue-EMS organizations, union locals and individual departments and agencies need to take advantage of the positive aspects of social media, the most important being the ability to inform the public and influence opinion.