How to avoid firefighter photo firestorms

Simple steps to evade controversy related to photos, fireground scenes and social media

A good friend of mine who is a retired fire chief has a photograph he values highly displayed on his office wall. In the picture, he is sitting on a couch with four firefighters in bunker gear, and behind them is a building engulfed in flames. The five of them are smiling. The photo was a gift for my friend’s retirement in 2005.

I remembered that photo this week when I became aware of the Detroit firefighters who posed for a similar photo recently, also for the purpose of honoring a retiring colleague. But instead of creating a valued keepsake for their coworker, they created a firestorm of controversy.

The photo went viral. The story of the posing firefighters was covered by national and fire service media. An investigation ensued, which resulted in the fire commissioner saying that “all involved will be held accountable.”

Why did one of these incidents end without incident and one with serious repercussions? There are two critical differences between these two situations.

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