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Baltimore Fire Dept. Sets New Social Media Guidelines For Its Employees After Scathing Criticism

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The Baltimore City Fire Department says it does not want to silence critics but the firefighters’ union has serious concerns.

Mike Hellgren has all sides of this hot debate.

The latest heated battle in Baltimore City’s fire department is over Twitter and what firefighters can and can’t post on social media.

It comes after some fiery criticism of the mayor and chief online, including controversy over the chief’s pay raise when fire companies are closing.

One Tweet read: “Save yourself. There are no medics, but you can call the mayor on her video phone.”

Another questions, “How can the mayor and chief spat in your face?”

The department says the new guidelines are not to repress free speech but to make sure delicate intelligence is not divulged, and only accurate information is given in emergencies.

“Simply to establish concise guidelines and boundaries for which our members can communicate concerns, but it must be done decently and orderly,” Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Fire Department, said.

Still, the firefighters’ union is troubled enough that they’re meeting with lawyers and the department next week.

“That’s our main concern is firefighters are protected. That’s our only concern,” Rick Hoffman, president of the Baltimore City Firefighters’ Union, said. “I want to make sure our members are covered legally.”

But the criticism won’t vanish. Some say it will drive firefighters underground, and they’ll just post anonymously.

The Supreme Court has ruled employees can face punishment in limited situations for what they say on social media.

But Maryland’s General Assembly recently passed a law that you do not have to share your usernames and passwords with your employers.

“It’s similar, we think, to tapping a phone and listening to phone conversations because there are lots of personal messages,” Melissa Goemann of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

Like the fire department, Baltimore City police are also working on a social media policy. They say no specific problems are behind that push.

Both Baltimore City’s fire and police departments are looking at what other cities and professional organizations have done to establish their own guidelines.

The fire department has no official deadline to put the social media policies into effect.

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