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Monday, March 1, 2010

The responsibility of a blogger and the accountablility of social media users.

The social media community is very concerned about a situation in South Carolina where a firefighter paramedic was terminated from his employment by the Chief of his department for a posting to his social media site.  Many people have filled the blogosphere with comments expressing outrage over his termination and disagreeing with the actions taken by the Chief of the local county fire department in South Carolina.  One of my colleagues whom I respect very much and is partially responsible for me to even begin to write in this environment has weighed in with his opinion here:

The Happy Medic - Letters in the files are flying today

I am going to stick my head over the parapet or my neck out and state that I do not agree with Happy Medic but not for reasons of just standing by another Chief.  I believe that while all citizens of our United States of America have the inalienable right of free speech, that right does not bring with it absolution from consequences of our speech.  Then the next question is whether or not the punishment fits the crime or is the disciplinary action excessive compared to the severity of the violation.  It is in that question that I believe that one needs to go to the community where the offense occurred and to the organization where the offense was recognized, investigated and acted upon.

Colleton County Fire - Rescue

When I went to the site, I read that this is a rural/suburban ISO Rating Class 4 county fire department that has responsibilities to provide fire suppression and EMS to 1054 square miles with 68 paid cross-trained personnel and 250 volunteer members in the South Carolina Lowcountry; and was created in 1994 by aggregating many of the local fire districts or departments.  The Chief appears to be family oriented from my assessment due to his recognition of three occasions in February 2010 where there were births to members of his department.  The Chief or the department also trusts in God.  I also saw that the Chief and the Department supports a Fire Explorer Post (#661) that follows the strict guidelines of the Boy Scouts of America.

I looked into whether or not South Carolina was a "Right to Work" state and it appears that it is by virtue of legislation and not due to incorporation into the South Carolina State Constitution.  I then looked at a local news feature that had links to all the documents that were made available to the public at this site:  live5news.com story by Hatzel Vela

Maybe by now, some of you are getting what I am trying to say.  Many departments have different standards for what is considered to be "conduct unbecoming" or "unacceptable behavior".  There is a great deal of variability from agency to agency and region of the country to region of the country.  A California sheriff's department has terminated deputies in the past for calling in sick when they were not sick.  I don't believe that a member of my department would be fired for such a transgression but the Sheriff of that department made a business case reason for his policy and created a nexus to the professional standards of his administration and the need to maintain the public's trust in his peace officers and their truthfullness and veracity.  I heard him defend his policy once by stating that if a deputy was willing to lie about their status to get a day off, where would the officer draw the line about lying in regards to evidence found on a criminal suspect or the elements of a crime that he or she was describing.  In this day of public distrust of law enforcement, and challenges to the objectivity of police officers such as Brady and Pritchess motions, the mere perception of untruthfulness of a police officer can damage a law enforcement career.

I understand the concern that the other EMS bloggers have about this case involving the firefighter from South Carolina.  It even gave me pause to think about whether or not I should continue or to just pack it in.  I came to the realization that this individual's lack of understanding of the political landscape of his own department and community may have done him in.  The power of media is great, everyone has heard of the adage, "Never argue with a man that buys ink by the barrel."  And there is another, "God created all men and Samuel Colt made them all equal."  I look at the power of social media on the internet in an analogous manner with Samuel Colt's .45 Peacemaker.  What used to be the purview and domain of newspapers and traditional brick and mortar media, is now the capability of everyone with an ISP account or access to the internet.

Instead of arguing about the merits of the individual's termination or not; that is a matter for his legal representation and the employer/employee relationship between the respective parties.   I think it is more important to recognize this as a reminder that all our comments in the open forums require us to be cognizant of what we post and how we post.  Yes, many of our profession may have felt the feelings expressed by the firefighter paramedic from South Carolina but would a member of the public feel the same way?   Would a member of that community in South Carolina feel the same way that I do when I smile and think to myself, I have been there?

I can tell you that I will continue to post but I am now reminded of my responsibility to my profession, my department, and my colleagues and I will hold myself accountable for that.

9 comments:

  1. Yes Seb, all very good points. I agree with you that with freedom also comes responsibly. I do however feel that that the termination of the FF/PM was too severe a discipline. But as you said, different agencies have different standards. As a field provider and social media user I understand where this FF/PM was coming from when he made that cartoon and why he posted it. He states that the cartoon was inspired by real life experiences that the EMS and fire communities deal with. All be it a bit exaggerated, there is some truth and a message behind it. This was a matter of poor judgment on his part. Part of being responsible with the potential power of the internet is knowing how and where to use it. There are other more effective and diplomatic ways of getting your message heard, and it is unfortunate that this attempt resulted in the loss of his job.

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  2. Seb, can you understand why most EMS bloggers from the UK use pseudonyms and don't give their real or "street" names in their profile?

    It would take very little for an English ambulance trust to fire one of their staff for blogging. It would be seen as disloyalty and disruptive unless they unceasingly praised their trust. Some, and NEAS is obviously one of these as Mark Glencorse gets away with it, take a more liberal view.

    In my case, as a volunteer, I doubt that my trust would be as forgiving. That's why, regrettably, I never use my real name. I'd love to come clean, as I reckon it could help recruitment of volunteers. I don't slag off the Trust, nor do I identify patients or even the great people I work with. However, it would still be streng verbotten.

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  3. Dear Jeremiah,

    I always thought it was important to never second guess the actions of others, especially when I was not involved in the process. We, in our nascent profession, seem to enjoy critiquing every aspect of each other's operations. I thought it was harsh to fire a person for calling in sick when they were not sick. But that sheriff was able to and did. I am sorry that the South Carolina firefighter paramedic lost his job but I wonder if there is more to the story that will never be told because of personel confidentiality rules, policies, regulations or laws. Thanks for contributing.

    Seb

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  4. Dear Ambulance Amateur,

    I learn a little more each day from the culture of our UK colleagues every day. You are in a very vulnerable position as a volunteer. The Chief of Police I volunteer for can dismiss me at a moment's notice for any violation of the policy manual. It matters little that I have been with that police department as a volunteer or reserve officer for 25 years. It seems odd to me that one in the UK would rather stay anonymous to avoid detection for fear of being removed as a volunteer. I guess I am lucky that I work for a very understanding Chief in the Fire Service. The Public Information Officer for the SFFD is aware of my blog and is supportive and so is my direct supervisor, the EMS Chief. Good luck and keep low.

    Seb

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  5. Excellent points Seb, and very interesting to see the issue from the "other side of the bugles" as it were.
    However, I'm sure more offensive things have been said person to person in public places without a sudden firing.
    I too wonder what else was going on in this situation.
    But the punishment does not at all fit the action, regardless of the history or makeup of the agency or the community.

    Please don't let this event force you out of posting your thoughts and feelings. We who use this medium responsibly must continue to do so.

    Thank you,
    HM

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  6. You bring up questions and concerns about this case that are valid and at the same time we are all involved with social media and video to such a degree that make the issue clear that I would not have posted a video of this sort, but would have found a forum to discuss my discontent and seek out another's wisdom to handle the situation. Since this was not his media of choice I do believe it is simply a case of whether or not the punishment fit the crime and regardless of what we say here this will become a matter for a jury to decide.

    I really appreciate you taking the step to begin blogging and letting those of us who seek to learn from industry leaders such as your self

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  7. Seb,
    Great post! It's nice hearing this issue from a management perspective... hippy I am, though and will always stand behind free speech. Now, I've watched the video, and have made one of those on that very site in the past. When you look up Xtranormal videos about FF/Medics on YouTube, you see an abundance of these types of videos. Do all of these employees stand for termination as well? This person obviously went the wrong way in addressing his issues with his service, and the video was more than a bit exaggerated, I have to say. I see both sides of this issue. I want the right to voice my opinion in any manner that I choose. This is why I had chosen to stay anonymous like our friend Happy did for so long- until I started a Podcast and had to step out of that shadow. No where in my information, though, can you find my company info, my employer's name, my area that I work in, even. I am untraceable to the company and community that I provide for. So, if I posted this video as MsParamedic vs Natalie Quebodeaux, would I be in any less trouble as *your* employee? On the other side, I can see why his employer sought termination, albeit I think that was a little harsh. Perhaps suspension and the deleting of the video from his public Facebook would have sufficed.

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  8. Dear MsParamedic, I am sorry to take so long to respond to your comments. I agree with you that the punishment should fit the crime and many of the new social media practitioners are professional and respectful of their capabilities. To answer your question about being "my employee", Yes, if a uniformed member of the San Francisco Fire Department posted that particular video, they could be disciplined by the Department for a violation of the SFFD Rules and Regulations or a violation of the SFFD Mission and Values Statement. If there was a nexus to a violation of the non-discrimination and EEO Citywide Policy that was proven to the level of an administrative hearing, another dimension of discipline could be imposed. This is not even close to the potential slander and libel tort action that the medical center or physician could pursue against the agency or individual. Yes maam, from the perspective of the rig, it seems that many things are knee jerk or heavy handed but the burden of management is to weigh and balance all issues when you are faced with a problem and to reach a solution that is equitable and fair. Do both sides always consult with one another? Probably not but remember that each side of the table could be bound by legal restrictions as to what can or cannot be divulged. Keep up the good work and stay "hydrated". I hope to meet you one day; I love the bayou and I'll be down in your neck of the woods in May for a wedding. Thanks for reading. Seb

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  9. Much has been opined on punishment fitting the crime, and I would only be another voice in the wind.

    Your perspective on "what we post and how we post" is very timely, especially the line:

    "I came to the realization that this individual's lack of understanding of the political landscape of his own department and community may have done him in."

    Situational awareness is not confined to the fireground. Rather, it exists 24/7/365.

    Let this incident serve as an important reminder for us all to fully appreciate the power and force behind the zeroes and ones we create and offer each day.

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