Today I got a great question about utilization of social media in regards to firefighter injuries and Line of Duty Deaths.
What are you seeing with departments in regards to attempting to control what goes out by their members in regards to LODD and serious injuries?
A little background behind my question. In 2008 I was transported to the hospital from a fire scene. Prior to getting to the hospital someone in the dept sent a text message out identifying who was going to the hospital. Radio discipline was fantastic and never said who or what unit or anything, but the text was sent and there were people waiting at the hospital. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and we have a firefighter go to the hospital with chest pains and this time there are facebook pages popping up before he gets to the hospital. I know that we can’t control the buffs who listen 24/7/365 and seem to know what I had for lunch before I have it. But what are some of the things you are seeing out there?
Instead of simply sending him an answer, I figured it would be a perfect idea for an article and am writing my response below.
The short answer for the last part of that question is that unfortunately we are seeing too many people share too much information too early. At the very least, firefighters should keep their mouths shut until the department makes a formal release on the situation.
You might also get some insight on this very topic recently discussed about the shooting incident at Virginia Tech. Read about that here.
First of all, you have to understand that web sites and blogs share information they get on the subject of firefighter injuries and LODD’s when they occur. For the most part (and my personal protocol) we DO NOT disclose names until they are disclosed by the department officially. Often (and I think Dave Statter would agree), we are provided names and details far sooner than the department is prepared to disclose the information. We rely on the department to disclose this information officially, and even then many of the details are not shared on our sites because they are too raunchy, disrespectful, unofficial, and not necessary for everyone to know.
Department procedure for disclosing information
Departments should have procedure established for disclosing information via one source. Whether that is the Public Information Officer (PIO), Fire Marshal, Fire Chief, City/County Official, Police Department, or other delegate, the information should be shared from one source. Administration should make it clear that once the information gathering begins, the gathered information should be accumulated with the same process and remain local to the department. This information can then be dissected and only the facts pertinent to the incident worthy sharing with the public should be made known to the public. This information should be agreed upon by more than one person (possibly senior or executive staff including legal counsel). One of the biggest criteria for disclosure of information regards the involved party(s) family. Basically, you have a duty to make sure that the family has had ample time to notify their entire family members and that the family is ready for the news to be shared. As for the details to be shared, that is going to be done case by case. There could be potential issues regarding arson, death, other injuries, crimes, etc. including input and concerns from other departments such as legal counsel and police offices.
This includes controlling the use of names in radio traffic. Keep in mind, I can listen to hundreds of departments radio traffic as long as I have an internet connection.
The important thing to remember here is that the department controls the information. The department can always disclose more information later. They CANNOT take back any information they share once it is shared.
Controlling social media
News will be shared. Speculation will exist. Rumors will fly. Departments will only be able to control legitimate information shared in a professional manner. I mean that if a news organization shares bad information, the department can call them and clear the air. However, if an eye witness shares bad information it will more than likely be outside the ability to control that information. The control of information on social networks might be frustrating, but utilization of the format above and below can and will help!
Controlling firefighter reporters
If a firefighter is injured or killed within your department it is not your duty, responsibility, or need to share that information. Let the department share the information. I don’t mean you cannot discuss it within your company, but there is no need to post anything on Facebook until your department discloses that information.
One thing I was disciplined during recruit school was that I am a firefighter. Not a reporter, not a source for information. I am not allowed speaking with news crews unless I am told to or given permission by a superior. I was taught it, I learned it, I follow it.
Not all firefighters are taught that unfortunately.
Do yourself, your department, your brother and sister firefighters, and the ones involved a favor and keep your mouth shut. If asked about a name or details, just tell them you don’t know or you cannot tell. It is not your responsibility.
Don’t text, don’t update anything on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, web sites, or anything else. Even putting up a little bit of information can become a headache. For instance, if you were to put an update about “Keep our department in your prayers during this time” can create a whirlwind of people asking what is going on. With those questions comes other people answering them who could be thousands of miles away looking for information and sharing it on your status update without a care in the World if the information is accurate or legitimate.
This is about respect, right vs. wrong, and discipline. (Remember Willie and my motto: Respect, Honor, Tradition, Pride, Brotherhood).
Trust me, when a firefighter is injured or dies in the Line of Duty, people are looking for information. Everyone wants to know what is going on, who is involved, how did it happen, why did it happen, etc. Depending on the severity of the incident, Departments might be getting hounded by local news, National news, organizational leaders, etc.
Plus, people will want to come help. In order for them to establish the event warrants their response they want to know what is going on.
If you are senior level in your department you have a duty to disclose certain information in a timely manner once the information is prepared and the party(s) involved are ready for the information to be shared.
If you are a member of a department when serious injury or death occurs within your department… Respect your brother and sister firefighters by keeping your information to yourself and allow your administration to do their jobs.