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D.C. Fire and EMS put five firefighters on desk duty after one of them posted a picture critical of D.C. police on Facebook and four others commented on it.
After a D.C. police officer wrote a traffic ticket for a firefighter, that firefighter took a picture of the officer walking toward his cruiser and posted it on his Facebook page with a comment to the effect of “This is why we should be careful and take our time getting to incident scenes,” sources told News4.
The post is said to be so inflammatory it was brought directly to the attention of both Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
Top D.C. fire and police officials viewed those comments as a reference to the March incident in which a D.C. motorcycle officer waited 20 minutes after being struck by a hit-and-run driver before being transported to a hospital by an ambulance from Prince George’s County.
D.C. fire immediately transferred those five firefighters from the field to desk duty.
“Right now it’s in the investigation phase,” said Ed Smith, of the firefighter union. “Hopefully they’ll be back to duty soon, and then we’ll have to deal with any disciplinary proceedings if there are any depending on the outcome of the investigation.”
The temporary reassignment of that many firefighters affects staffing levels, Smith said.
“Having these members off the street on desk duty definitely adds to the overtime problem and other members getting relief from duty,” he said.
Through a spokesman, Ellerbe said the fire department can’t comment because it is a personnel matter.
The post was removed from the firefighter’s Facebook page.
Four firefighters commented on the original post, and were also assigned to desk duty, according to Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association.
“There isn’t a social media policy in place,” says Smith. “If members are going to be held accountable then it needs to be upfront and the rules need to be known about what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds,” says Smith.
Smith says the issue isn’t only a public safety concern.
“Employees in all workplaces are struggling with social media policies,” says Smith.
The head of the firefighters’ union says establishing a policy reflects expectations, but also provides for free speech.
“You have to find that fine line between keeping the public trust and respecting members’ First Amendment rights,” says Smith.
Smith says he’s reached out to his counterpart in the police union, “just to let him know we respect our brothers and sisters in blue.”
D.C. Fire has not responded to a request for comment.
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