BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A new social media policy in the Baltimore Fire Department is causing a firestorm of debate.

The department says the rule protects firefighters but, as Gigi Barnett reports, the union fears firefighters will lose their right to speak up.

By smart phone or online, if a Baltimore firefighter or medic wants to comment on the city’s department using social media websites, the new rule is: don’t do it.

“What we’re trying to do is keep firefighters from getting themselves in trouble. There have been a lot of cases around the country recently where firefighters, paramedics, medics have done things in a social media context that have gotten them in trouble. In some cases, they’ve lost their jobs,” said Baltimore Fire Department Chief James Clack.

Clack says his department wrote the policy to protect firefighters. The strict rule comes after paramedics and firefighters took to their computers this past spring to post about the city shutting down several key fire stations. It was a decision to save cash, but it only sparked a backlash of fiery comments.

“It’s going to put some controls on some kind of uncontrolled behavior, and that’s always a bit problematic,” Clack said.

But it may be too much control, according to the firefighters’ union president Rick Hoffman.

Under the new policy, firefighters can’t comment on the department–even if they do it anonymously or while off-duty.

Plus, Hoffman says the policy is too broad, which could spell less protection for firefighters.

“There’s so much that everyone needs to learn about social media. What are the laws on them? Or is it make it up as we go? We needed to dig a lot deeper than we did,” Hoffman said.

The department’s new policy applies to all social media websites, including online forums and chatrooms. Personal emails are not covered under the new rule.

While the department has this new policy, it says it will not monitor social media websites.

The fire department modeled its new policy after the Philadelphia Fire Department, which recently approved a strict social media rule.

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