UPDATED 11:30 AM: Bel Air VFC sent STATter911.com its official statement about the Facebook postings (click here). Here is an excerpt from the statement:
“This is unacceptable behavior of our membership,” Chief Hopkins said. “I am extremely disappointed and ashamed that any of our members would make these statements. This type of activity has been dealt with swiftly. I cannot express my disappointment to these members enough. They have brought great disrespect to the company, their fellow firefighters and those they serve, you the public, and for that I apologize. I hope that those who are reading this continue to believe in the mission of the Bel Air VFC and continue to trust us with your medical and fire emergencies.” In the coming weeks the Bel Air VFC will be conducting training for all members on the aspects of social media through varied legal experts.
It is unfortunate that, within the same week that volunteer fire organizations in Harford County came together to perform flawlessly during the tornado event and their good names have been tarnished by this childish behavior. It is important for all to know that we as firefighters do this job because we want to and not because we get something material out of it. Firefighters shouldn’t expect something for the job they do nor should they ask for it. Those firefighters that do ask are in it for all the wrong reasons.
In handling the bad news Bel Air VFC Chief Eddie Hopkins seems, so far, to be making all the right moves. The man who heads the largest firefighting force in Harford County, Maryland, and is also chairman of the Board of Town Commissioners for Bel Air, appears to have tackled this head on after learning Monday morning of the Facebook posts by his members that started May 30. When Bryna Zumer a reporter for ExploreHarford.com first contacted Hopkins that day, even before verifying his members had posted the somewhat threatening remarks to the management of the local Sonic, the chief made it clear what he thought about this, “In my mind, that is pretty egregious and that is a very poor attitude, if they are firefighters.”
Later in the day the chief had identified six of Bel Air’s members who had made posts complaining about the burger joint failing to provide firefighters with the same discount given police and military. Hopkins vowed action.
A day later, Chief Hopkins had some answers when reporter Zumer checked in. Eight members were involved in some form. A demotion, suspensions and a recommendation of termination have taken place for four whose comments Hopkins found to be the most offensive.
Those comments, which included talk about a dumpster fire occurring at the Sonic and the fire department failing to respond to calls for help, sparked some outrage in the community. And why shouldn’t there be outrage? The Facebook postings give the impression of a mob type shakedown where a store owner is told to pay for protection so something awful doesn’t happen to their business.
Judging by the newspaper accounts, Chief Eddie Hopkins assessed the seriousness of this situation immediately and began taking the right actions and sending the right message in order to restore the faith of the community in his department.
Tony Coliano, who is president of Bel Air VFC, was just as clear with his message in an interview yesterday telling WBAL-TV, “You cannot slam this fire company or our citizens or embarrass our fire company as a member of our fire company. That is conduct unbecoming of a member.” Coliano also apologized to firefighters for the actions of the Bel Air members.
Running, hiding and blaming the press, as many do, rarely works. Getting the bad news out of the news as fast as possible by dealing with the issue head on, taking decisive action and providing a clear message should be the goal.
The chief of Harford County’s largest and busiest fire company says he has suspended three members and demoted a fourth over inappropriate posts that were made on a member’s Facebook page after he complained about not receiving a discount at the Bel Air Sonic drive-in restaurant and some responses suggested they not respond to any fire calls at the business.
One of the three who was suspended was also demoted in rank, BAVFC Chief Eddie Hopkins said Tuesday morning.
Hopkins said further disciplinary action is pending against some of the four, whom he said he has recommended be terminated from the fire company for their actions.
NOTE: I will be holding a class for the Chief’s Leadership Forum at Firehouse Expo on Wednesday, July 18 on handling bad news. The Bel Air VFC Facebook incident has just been added to the program. Come join the discussion.
Also on STATter911 …
- Maryland fire company investigates firefighters over Facebook posts. Bel Air VFC members upset over lack of discount by fast food place. – June 5, 2012
- Suspensions & demotions of ‘top responders’ upheld after Bel Air, MD Sonic Facebook shakedown. Termination of one firefighter pending. – June 26, 2012
- Is it ethical for firefighters & police officers to accept freebies? The Bel Air FD Facebook incident has reporters checking policies regionwide. Some tips from Dave. – June 19, 2012
- Facebook comment takes down another one. Columbus, MS firefighter resigns after controversial post. – September 4, 2012
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