FireLaw Weighs in on Landmark Social Media Case

As expected, Curt Varone at Fire Law posted his insights on the recent settlement between AMR and Dawnmarie Souza. Mr. Varone covers the settlement from a legal perspective for Fire Chiefs and administrators. Mr. Varone agrees that it may have been most beneficial for departments across the country for this case to have been decided by the courts rather than a settlement. The current agreement leaves many issues regarding social media and employment unanswered. To get the fire service legal perspective, check out Fire Law’s post.

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Landmark Case in Social Media Settled

While the case has been settled, it was unfortunately settled between the parties rather than in the court system. Had this case gone to court today as originally scheduled, the legal system would hav had the opportunity to set a precedent on social media and employment issues. As it stands now, several questions are left unanswered regarding how far employers can go in regulating social media use by its employees. Regardless, the case between American Medical Response and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has serious implications for social media mavens within the fire service.

The first implication concerns employees and their use of social media. According to the NLRB, employees have some protections when bashing their current employers on social media platforms. As long as employees limit their status updates to issues concerning wages, working conditions, or union organizing, those updates will be considered ‘Protected Concerted Activities.’ With that said, employers (ie: Fire Departments and ambulance companies) are not able to discipline their employees for their social media usage. However, it should be noted that while the employee may have protections from their current employer, they still hold themselves open and accountable for the things that they say in civil court. Any defamation you make against other persons, notably your boss or fellow coworkers, would be considered libel. I’ll encourage fellow firefighters to use a little common sense to avoid any grey area. Follow this simple rule: if you wouldn’t say it to your bosses face, don’t post it to Facebook.

The other major implication focuses on Fire Departments. What made this case interesting was the fact that AMR actually had a policy in place dealing with social media. For the most part, public safety agencies from across the country are way behind the curve in this regard. As Fire Chiefs begin to create social media policies in light of the recent employment issues, it will be important to incorporate the lessons learned from this incident. First and foremost is the fact that your policy can not outlaw all use of social media by employees. As noted from the NLRB decision, employees have the right to associate with fellow employees in the social media forum to discuss wages, working conditions, and organizing. Your policy will at a minimum need to allow for your employees to have that opportunity. For other thoughts on Fire Department social media policies, see Ed Robson’s December 2010 post on FireRescue1.

I expect that Curt Varone over at FireLaw and Bradley Shear at Shear on Social Media Law will have posts about this incident in the very near future. As they share their wisdom, I’ll be sure to forward it along.

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Social Media Issues for the Fire Service

I’ll apologize now for my lack of online contribution recently. The last two months saw me feverishly working on creating a 4-hour class about social media in the fire service for the Missouri Winter Fire School. Between the creation of that class and my efforts in leading my own department into the social media realm, I had little time to keep up with my personal social media endeavors.

The break though gave me the opportunity to do a great deal of research and development on many aspects of social media, particularly relating to the fire service. Considering the knowledge and experience I had gained, I thought it would be prudent to relay that information here for all of our readers. That said, over the next several weeks I’ll make a commitment to post at least weekly with information on social media that is relevant to the fire service.

If you or your department have any specific needs or questions as it relates to social media, leave a comment and I’ll make sure to cover it in an upcoming topic.

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FEMA joins the blogosphere

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has just launched their new blog ( What can you expect from the new FEMA blog? From their first post:

Plain and simple, this will be another tool we’ll use to communicate and let you know what we’re up to. This won’t be another way to put out our press releases – this is a way to communicate directly with you.

You’ll eventually hear from team members from across our agency, from our regional offices to our field offices, supporting local disaster recovery efforts. We will provide information before, during and after disaster strikes and we will highlight best practices, innovative ideas, and insights that are being used across emergency management and across the country.

This blog may surprise many to see such a large federal agency being so open. However, if you’ve followed FEMA in the past you know that they’ve embraced social media (they actually use their pages rather than just own them). You can link to their social media platforms here: FEMA Facebook, FEMA Twitter, and the FEMA Director Craig Fugate’s Twitter.

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Republicans and 9/11 Responder Health

I sometimes hate just posting a link without adding value. However, I think Jon Stewart and Rhett Fleitz have captured the recent actions of the republican party surrounding the 9/11 health care bill quite well.

If you have any interest in firefighting, were an American during 9/11, or have any interest in basic humanity – visit FireCritic’s site and watch the Daily Show video.

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Recruitment tool: QR Codes

Top Referrers QR Code

One of the projects that has kept me away from blogging recently has been volunteer firefighter recruitment. I’ve been working with several other people to put together some posters to increase our application rate for the upcoming recruit academy. Creating recruitment posters for a fire department were not very difficult. In fact, with the right people involved it was actually quite fun to see the end product. The hardest part of the process was moving our future applicant from interest to action.

It’s one thing to create a snazzy billboard or poster. It’s quite another though to get an audience to actually follow through with your intentions. Here’s our goal: create a snazzy poster that will hopefully catch a persons interest AND THEN get them to go to our website to fill out an application. The problem: lots of things happen between when a person sees the poster and they get to a computer. Can we really make a poster that is so powerful that the message stays with them til they get access to the internet?

The problem is that we can’t. Instead, we need to transfer that interest when they see the recruitment poster into action immediately! How do we do that: QR Codes. Several businesses have begun using these in their advertisements to direct consumers to more information about their product. All the consumer needs is a smartphone with a camera. Download a QR Code app, take a picture with your phone, and you’re immediately directed to whatever is hidden behind the QR Code image. Now, you’re potential applicant is transported directly to your online application page where they can fill out their basic demographic information.

If you’re interested, feel free to try it out yourself. The QR code image from above links back to one of the leading referrers of readership to our blog. Or if you’re up to it, spend 30 seconds over at the Kaywa QR Code Generator and make one yoursefl. Enjoy!

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Firefighter Reading List

Christopher Brennan over at The Fire Service Warrior has published a list of books he believes would be good reading for anyone in the fire service. Being an avid reader, I’m always interested to see what others find as important and required reading.

Buzz over to Brennan’s blog and check out the list. Don’t forget to add your comments if you think he’s missed an important text. I think he’ll be adding this in his own book soon.

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