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.