By Brian P. Kazmierzak
When we look at all the ways the fire service has changed in the past 20 years, it seems like one of the biggest ways the fire service has changed is its use of social media. When I look around the firehouse classroom, I see people checking Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Conduct a hands-on training, and you’ll see instant video and photo postings on social media of the class. Then sit around the firehouse at night—there’s no more card playing or storytelling. Now, while the TV plays, each firefighter is in their recliner, on their smart phone, tablet, or laptop, checking in on social media, commenting, and posting. Now, before we even return to the firehouse, there may be Facebook photos and YouTube videos of us either at our best or worst, with 100 comments on how it should have been done. A lot of times, these posts become derogatory toward fellow brothers and sister firefighters.
I am a huge supporter of our Constitution and especially our First Amendment rights (Freedom of Speech). Sometimes our “Brothers and Sisters” go too far in terms of social media and posting, to the extent that the behavior has become negative and affects us all. Maybe I take this a little more personally that some–I got myself in trouble in 2011 using social media. Not by commenting or posting like above, but it still caused me a lot of problems, so I personally know what social media can do to us. Social media has the power to ruin relationships, marriages, and most of all the respect of our fellow firefighters. Just look at any of the fire service Web sites, any week of the year, and you are bound to find a firefighter or police officer getting into trouble or even fired because of social media posts. As public safety providers, we are held to a higher standard. We must always remember this and in the end live by the GOLDEN RULE: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
It seems that some of our brothers and sisters have become “Keyboard Incident Commanders” or “Facebook Firefighter Medal of Valor” winners. We have firefighters that spend much more time on social media than they do wearing SCBA, pulling hose, or throwing ladders. A lot of these same people preach how great the brotherhood is and are members of organizations that proclaim the brotherhood, but in the end they behave very differently when they get behind the keyboard.
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One of the rules I like the best is that the Fire Engineering Training Community and requires you use your real name to post, and on www.BackStepFirefighter.com, Bill Carey states, “Captain Anonymous doesn’t ride here.” What this means is that if you are going to post/comment on items on his blog, then you need to use your real name—you own your behavior, even your online behavior. This is the way EVERY fire service or Facebook page should be. It’s much easier for one to throw stones when people don’t know who you are. You can hide behind the Keyboard Incident Command Screen and tell the FDNY or LAFD how to run their fires, and preach about everything you would do differently. You can come up with nifty hashtags like #EveryoneGoesHomeButTheOccupants, criticize NIST and UL for their research, create fancy fake Facebook profiles to hide behind, or post a photo of yourself in hip boots and a crusty helmet. You can criticize things you don’t understand and sum up the entire fire service in 140 characters or less! If this describes your online behavior, please consider how this type of negative behavior affects you, your department, and the fire service as a whole. I can’t think of any positives of it.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some HUGE benefits to social media, including sites such as YouTube. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t watch a fire video online. I use them regularly in my classes and on my Web sites. There are tons of great training tips posted each day, and an abundance that can be learned about the fire service online. We just need to do it correctly and most of all RESPECTFULLY!
We should be very happy we have the First Amendment rights we do, but please THINK BEFORE YOU POST. How would you feel if you read that same post about your department, organization, or something you believe in? Remember to treat others as you want to be treated. If you live by that value, then you will always win! By the way, don’t bother trying to find me on Facebook–you won’t! Now get out and train…do something to make the fire service, your department, or yourself better today!
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Brian P. Kazmierzak, EFO, CTO is the division chief of training for the Penn Twp. Fire Dept. in Mishawaka, Indiana. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Southern Illinois University and serves as the director of operations for www.FireFighterCloseCalls.com and the Webmaster for www.ModernFireBehavior.com. Brian was the recipient of the 2006 F.O.O.L.S. International Dana Hannon Instructor of the Year Award, the 2008 Indiana Fire Chiefs Training Officer of the Year Award Recipient, and the 2011 International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI)/Fire Engineering George D. Post Fire Instructor of the Year. In addition, Brian completed the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program in 2006. He is a CPSE credentialed Chief Training Officer, serves as a Director at Large for the ISFSI, and is on the UL FSRI PPV Research Study Panel.