Facebook’s founder was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2010.  Is there a message in this for fire departments?  I think there is.  Facebook, Linked In, and the social media in general are generating a buzz because they’re important to how we communicate today.

There are opportunities for fire departments here, but there are also challenges and dangers.  The City of Redondo Beach, California, has abandoned its Facebook page because of potential legal problems.  The Austin, Texas, fire department got itself in hot water because of its Facebook policy.

Social media aren’t going to go away.  They can be useful tools for fire departments to use.  However, there are important questions about their use.  For example:

  • Can fire department officials remove vulger posts and factually inaccurate information from a site, or are the posts protected by the First Amendment?
  • If a quorum of fire district trustees comment on a Facebook post, is this an “Open Meetings Act” violation?
  • When it creates a Facebook page, does a fire district create a record subject to the requirements of the Illinois “Public Records Act”?
  • Can comments by a firefighter create liability for a fire district because of what the firefighter says?
  • Can a firefighter take pictures of a fire scene, and then post them on his Facebook page, with comments?
  • Can an EMT use the camera on her cell phone to photograph an accident victim, and use the photo as part of a training exercise at the fire house next week?

I don’t pretend that answers to these questions are easy.  But is your fire department at least asking these questions?