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Fire fighters banned from Facebook at Kansas department

When news broke that one fire department in Kansas banned fire fighters from using Facebook at fire stations, IAFF Facebook fans had a lot to say about the importance of freedom speech.

Wichita fire fighters are now under new restrictions on using Facebook, and any employee who violates the department’s policy faces disciplinarian action and even termination.

The IAFF advises its members to  use extreme caution when posting information to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or any social networking site. There can be serious repercussions for inappropriate posts, even while off-duty. Read more about the legal issues of using social networks by logging into the IAFF web site and reading “The Law and the Internet” manual released just last year.

In addition, here’s a story published on Fire Rescue 1’s web site about what fire departments should know about drafting a social media policy.

In Wichita, fire fighters are now prohibited from accessing social networking sites, Internet dating sites and weblogs while on duty.

Lawyers are now reviewing the policy that states fire fighters can’t post derogatory comments about the Wichita Fire Department – even when off duty -- which some say could infringe on the rights of freedom of speech.

Here’s what some of our Facebook fans had to say about the issue.

“I can understand some of it if it's violating HIPAA, but not an outright ban. I use Facebook for communicating with my family around the country and friends that I served in the military with. It's a two-way street with smartphones too. Just last night I used my smartphone to record the cause of our emergency in the attic of a hotel and emailed it to my Chief at the Command Post. I didn't have to explain the entire situation over the radio and he was able to see exactly what the problem was. From that one video we were able to form a battle plan.”

“Talking about work and posting pictures is not against Facebook rules and would be an infringement of their rights to free speech.”

“Welcome to work... check your right to free speech at the door, please.”

“Hey, remember when people who were troublemakers were given what for, disciplined and the rest of us went on with our lives as normal? I miss that.”

“It's understandable, I have seen people taking pictures (at an emergency) when they should be working and paying attention and have also seen inappropriate posts to social media sites. A complete ban is the easiest way for management to make sure nothing inappropriate gets posted!”

“I don’t see the point of banning Facebook during their down time, yet I do believe in not being able to post anything about what happens on a scene. There are HIPPA laws for a reason, and the fire department could get in trouble along with the person who would be posting pictures/blogs about the scene. I think that the fire fighters should have to keep their phones/iPads at the station if they do get a call. If there is a need for a cell phone, the engines and ladder trucks should be or already are equipped with a work cell phone.”

“I also know from work experience with a private ambulance company that the down time could be for multiple hours. I think going on the internet like Facebook or a blog site keeps me up. If I watch TV I would be more prone to falling asleep. Now to me, falling asleep would "distract" me more than being on the internet. I believe that the fire fighters should be able to do what they want on their down time as long as it doesn't make their response time slower or break any violations. If there is a problem where a fire fighter is screwing around at a fire, that’s a performance issue that should be handled with that person. What happened in this country? Why are we are so willing to give away our rights so tamely? Yeah, it might be easier for ineffective command staff if all situations were eliminated by stupid rules and regs, putting cameras in everyone's house would help with both fire and police protection but I hope we are smart enough to reject such sweeping over reaching solutions.”

“This is a policy that we have seen LONG COMING in the fire service. When your employer bans you from visiting social media sites from work PCs, and advises of a work-related performance study that measures social media costs vs. job production in hourly dollars - the writing is on the wall. You are ‘on the clock’ and your employer has the right to limit your connectivity to the triple W machine even if it is your own! How about studying pumps, hydraulics, maps, or teaching some tricks of the trade?”

“I am curious about the first amendment issue of this. It is not the same situation as a private employer telling you not to use their computer to access the internet. I know that teachers have had issues with social media when what they've posted in their off time has come back to cause them problems, but that's actually an entirely different issue, but still 1st Amendment if it's a public school teacher. As far as the studying pumps, hydraulics, maps and such, it's called down time for a reason --  it’s when all that needs to has already been done; it's how many fire fighters communicate with their families and friend. What’s next? Are they going to ban fire fighters from talking on the phone, watching TV, laughing? That may seem extreme but if you think about it this is a governmental entity telling fire fighters that they can not access Facebook during their shift even if they are on their own device...that seems pretty damn extreme to me (and house dues tend to pay for any wifi that exists at the house, it is not paid for by the department). Everyone deserves downtime, especially people on 24 hour shifts, especially people on 24 hours shifts when ON time is ON time. A fire fighter who is pulling up to a call snapping photos is a fire fighter who needs to be talked to by an officer individually if their photography has nothing to do with their job.”

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