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Firehouse websites banned under new Baltimore social media policy. Critics also concerned about free speech issues.

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According to the Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Rector a new policy covering social media and the Internet for Baltimore City firefighters bans wesbites like the one above, for Engine 8 and Truck 10. But, so far, that’s not the part of the policy that is proving controversial:

Under the policy, department personnel can be reprimanded for anything they write online about their jobs that doesn’t adhere to conduct rules, which require “good judgment” and “courtesy and respect to the public and to fellow employees.” The policy also restricts them from sharing information about fire scenes.

Fire Chief James S. Clack said the department crafted the policy to protect firefighters from getting into trouble for sharing sensitive information.

But union leaders called the policy too broad and said the department created it unilaterally after negotiations with union attorneys broke down last month. Social media and free-speech advocates balked at the scope of the policy and questioned its legality.

Bradley Shear, a Bethesda attorney who has advised state legislators in Annapolis on social media policy, said the new provisions are “troubling” and potentially unconstitutional.

“I think the policy is clearly suspect,” Shear said. “It’s over-broad, it’s retroactive, and I think they need to go back to the drawing board.”

Read entire article from The Baltimore Sun

Chief Clack told The Sun that while attorneys for the City threw in a lot of things, “I’m going to be most interested in people when they’re working”,

The policy, like many these days, brings up as many questions as it answers. One thing that is banned is “the real-time public disclosure of locations of deployed units, assets or personnel or any other real-time information from an incident scene.” Until earlier this year, IAFF Local 734 was using Baltimore City firefighters to provide such information to the public much as IAFF Local 36 in Washington, DC is doing currently. Could a fire department legally ban such union activity?

As you heard Curt Varone discuss with me in our IAFC webinar 10-days-ago, a social media policy is extremely important, but striking that right balance in today’s environment while this is all evolving, will prove to be challenging.

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