How Can We Better Use Social Media within the Fire Services?

by | Nov 18, 2021 | 0 comments

In this BLOG, we will look at some more content from our new recruitment guidebook publication at Firehouse Training titled “So You Want to Be a Firefighter Eh?” which is Canada’s largest, most comprehensive book ever written on the fire service hiring process. We will discuss the various pros and cons about the use of social media within the emergency services.

Social media has become the norm in recent years when it comes to communicating with friends, loved ones and even our co-workers. It has been a valuable resource to communicate and stay in touch with individuals we don’t get to see in person as often as we would like. It is a great platform to share experiences and events and is a catalyst to how we self-identify within our day-to-day lives.

Studies have found that seven out of ten people in North America have some form of social media and use it to communicate regularly. Social media platforms are being used not only in our personal lives but in many aspects of our professional lives. This information is absolutely crucial for a new firefighter, or anyone getting into the emergency services. This includes taking a good look at what has been posted previously to your personal social media accounts during the start of your career. If any of the information below resonates on your current and past social media platforms, it is highly recommended that you make changes or remove anything that may be considered questionable, as well as damaging to your reputation or future career.

As social media platforms begin to expand from Facebook, the grandfather of the medium, to Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, as a professional firefighter and emergency services frontline worker it is of great importance to have a general understanding of the dos and don’ts of social media use.

There have been countless incidents, not only in the fire services but also in law enforcement and the emergency medical services, where information has been shared over social media platforms that have embarrassed and been damaging to the whole profession of first responders, not just the particular emergency service it came from. Not surprisingly, the person who uploaded the information was impacted both personally and professionally. This not only resulted in corrective actions on behalf of the fire department but termination of employment in some instances as well. Many years ago, certain emergency services would encourage their staff to not have any social media accounts at all. This was to help limit any wrongdoings, especially in the sector of law enforcement. These days as the use of social media has become much more prevalent in our day-to-day lives, we are seeing these restrictions lifted. However, with our personal and professional reputations at the heart of every Facebook post or tweet on Twitter, it is advised that we take a look at some common country-wide social media policies and procedures of the various emergency services.

Many workers in the emergency services have posted a disclaimer on their personal pages that their “opinions and views expressed are personal and not of their employer”. 

While this may ring true for them individually, we must remember that as badge carrying emergency service members, we made a commitment to our services, and whether we believe it or not, this commitment lasts every day, on-duty or off-duty through our daily lives and these social media accounts. . This commitment includes that we do not do anything that would put our own reputation as a professional in a bad light, nor do we risk the reputation of the service that we work for. There are expectations as a professional in the emergency services, which are different from that of a civilian. 

These professions stand for a lot more than just showing up for shifts and collecting a paycheque. Professionals in fire, law enforcement and emergency medical services have a number one goal: to serve the public in a professional and ethical manner. This does not just happen when we arrive on shift for 8, 12, or 24 hours. This commitment we take as professional members in the public sector goes with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.

Privacy Considerations 

There are also some privacy considerations we should all have with our social media, especially for those in corrections and law enforcement. When it comes to dealing with criminal activity, being involved in activities that may potentially endanger not only ourselves and our family, a law enforcement officer must be diligent in the kind of personal and family content that they post within these platforms. There have been many cases where others are looking to do harm or commit acts of violence or retribution to police officers, and they can easily be found through their personal social media. For this reason, it is recommended for those working within the law enforcement industry, to refrain from participating in social media activities, as a whole. 

Social media can be used in a positive light, too. It can put you and your fire department or emergency service in the public eye and appropriate use can really bring a strong and positive awareness to what we do on the job to help and serve others. But this good is wiped out due to inappropriate uses. There have been various cases of offensive language, racism, bullying, and degradation of others. Some in the profession have shared inappropriate and offensive pictures as well as offensive opinions over religious and political beliefs. Although we have the right to certain free speech, this will not be appreciated by many who understand our role as professional public servants. 

Whether we like it or not, as a firefighter and those employed in the public or private industry emergency services, we are held to a much higher standard than the average citizen. This is made apparent as a new recruit enters the hiring and recruitment process throughout the vetting process or company officers who have an interview with fire service leaders, in regards to a potential promotion. 

We should work each and every day to be aware of this. Many social media policies go hand in with hand with on the job use of cell phones, which may look like the example below. 

Employees shall not post on social media anything that may be inconsistent with the duties and ethics of those working in emergency services. This may consist of racist, sexist comments, inaccurate information, rumours, and personal attacks on others. As a city employee, any social media should be transparent and accountable, show respect to others, not constitute a conflict of interest, and it must not reveal any confidential information. 

In closing, it is always best practice to not put yourself in a position where the actions that you have taken via social media will be questioned by your superiors or fire service leaders. This is about making the best judgement call you can as a public sector employee, prior to posting to your preferred social media platform.

Adam McFadden is a professional firefighter and hazmat technician for one of the largest fire departments in Canada, and most recently an Amazon Best-Selling Author for his fire service recruitment guidebook “So you Want to be a Firefighter Eh?” He is the owner of Firehouse Training and is responsible for program development of various career coaching and fire service training programs.  Adam has taught multiple fire service disciplines including incident command fundamentals, hazardous materials operations and high-rise firefighting tactics and has assisted hundreds of students across Canada, navigate through the fire department hiring and recruitment process.

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