In light of recent incidents in which I have read in local and regional news, I felt this article to be very necessary. The news stories hit home, extremely close to home. We live in a society that relies on social media and the headlines from major news outlets. We even seem to rely on the tabloids for our “news”. When a member of the emergency services including police, fire and ems make it into the news, it seems to be more common that its bad news rather than good news. The days of reporting about lives being saved appear to be taking a back seat to articles about who has been arrested and who is being sued. This is not a good sign for all of us as emergency services providers.
We must take a look into the mirror each morning and ask ourselves “are we truly able to handle the trust that the public has for us?” When we are engaging in activities both on and off duty, are we thinking about the consequences of what we are doing? If not, I urge you to ask yourself, can you responsibly handle the public’s trust and respect? When emergency services providers end up in trouble, the headline is not just “Joe Somebody arrested for theft” its “Joe Somebody, chief of XYZ department arrested for theft”. When you sign up to join the emergency services field, you take an oath of office or a commitment to serving others. In doing so, you also take on the weight that what you do will reflect not only on yourself, but also on your family, your department, your community and your respective service as a whole. If you think going through the United States legal system is stressful, the fallout on the social media which seems to follow situations as such, is just as stressful and never truly goes away, even when proven innocent in a court of law. The court of law is not the same as the “court of social media.”
As a judge would say, “The Court of Social Media is in session”. It appears from many comments online for some of these situations that people are quick to rush judgment on situations before the legal process has made its official determination. We seem to lose sight of “Innocent until proven guilty” or “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” Did we not learn as children, the saying of “those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones?” It’s easy to denounce someone else on social media for their mistake or situation. How would you respond to being in a similar situation if it was yourself, your best friend, your family member or your own department? Many of these situations can be prevented with just a little bit of thinking before doing. When a member gets caught up in a situation where they didn’t think and caused trouble for themselves and everyone around them, the court of social media will be in full swing and the prosecution never seems to relent. The legal system may actually be more forgiving than that of the social media court and its jury.
The era of instant gratification and instant blame has pushed its way into emergency services. This push of instant public comment has exacerbated situations as quickly as turning on a light bulb. We as the emergency services community have not seemed to learn from these situations and mistakes that members have made. If we don’t learn from the mistakes and situations, we will never get ahead of that public relations nightmare light bulb turning on and we will continue to see the court of social media in full session.
When you’re on duty or off duty and making a decision, ask yourself, “will this decision end up on an internet search? Will this follow you for the rest of your life? Will it cause distrust of you, your family, your department and your community?” When you are reading the news online and see that a fellow emergency services member has been caught up in some trouble, are you going take part in the “court of social media” acting as a prosecutor, judge and juror? Or are you going to pass over doing that and spare someone the added grief and stress in the situation that they are dealing with?
The choices are yours, the consequences that follow an action are more than just yours to face. The way to begin to regain the public’s trust and restore integrity to our emergency services is to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, wash your face and ask yourself “are we truly able to handle the public’s trust today?” “Are we going to do the right thing, not just today, but every day?” That oath, that commitment you made, are you going to uphold it? That comment box below an online article about a fellow provider, ask yourself, “Are we going to comment, or are we going to move along and keep our thoughts to ourselves?” These life choices are yours, choose wisely, for your future, your family’s future and the future of the emergency services community depends on it.
About the Author
NICHOLAS WITCZAK is the lieutenant of Brookside Engine Co. 1 and volunteer EMT for the Mendham Township First Aid Squad. Additionally he serves as the Mendham Borough OEM Coordinator. Nick has served in a multitude of departments and positions over the last 8 years including Past Captain of Morristown Ambulance Squad, volunteer firefighter/EMT in combination fire departments including the Wallingford and Allingtown Connecticut fire departments. He has wealth of experience working and volunteering in emergency medical services including municipal, commercial, fire based EMS and 911 fire dispatching. He currently holds a B.S. in Fire Administration from the University of New Haven. Nick works full time in the fire protection industry specializing in safety, sales and project management. He works part time as the NJ Client Development Coordinator for Emergency Resource Management.