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How to prevent firefighters from making negative headlines

Reputation-management expert will explore strategies on how to address and prevent bad firefighter behavior from entering your firehouse


Bad behavior and social media has landed many firefighters in hot water.

Within the past week, a firefighter in Miss. posted a controversial Facebook post that showed the KKK flag with a statement above that read “White power will never die” in response to the controversy surrounding the Miss. state flag.

In San Diego at Comic Con, a firefighter got into a verbal confrontation with a photojournalist that was videoing a patient, a popular actress and attendee of the event, who was being moved into an ambulance. He allegedly grabbed the photojournalist’s arm and pushed him backward.

We have even posted multiple articles on how Facebook can destroy your firefighting career, what firefighters need to know about social media policies and how fire departments can educate and manage crews to avoid discipline, discharge, embarrassment and even lawsuits.

In her presentation at the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Fire-Rescue International conference in August, Candice McDonald will discuss strategies to help safeguard firehouses from bad behavior, social media and citizen journalists.

McDonald’s seminar, “Reputation Management: Strategies to safeguard the firehouse from bad behaviors, social media and citizen journalists,” will be held Aug. 28; you can register for the conference here.

McDonald is a firefighter/EMS officer with the Winona (Ohio) Fire Department and works for NASA in the Office of Protective Services. She’s a co-chair of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association Reputation Management Committee and an active member of the outreach team.

She’s also a trustee for the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services. This topic, exploring how fire service leaders can maintain stakeholder trust during internal crisis, is also the topic for her doctoral dissertation.

Every negative headline of a poor firefighter behavior threatens the integrity of the fire service as a whole, she said.

Saving your reputation
Reputation management is important for fire and emergency service departments because it influence the public’s and municipal leaders’ opinions of the service.

With news streaming in real-time from the fingers of the average civilian, it is critical for departments to have the tools in place to safeguard the firehouse.

“Addressing and preventing reputation-management issues is dependent on good leadership, well-developed and reinforced policies, communication, timely response to incidents and the created culture within a firehouse,” McDonald said.

It is also important for strategies to be in place prior to an incident occurring.

“Like with preparing for emergencies, fire departments need to train to prevent, monitor and manage the unexpected reputation threat,” she said.

And because departments need to train to prevent these types of situations, the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association has teamed up with the National Volunteer Fire Council Foundation to offer free training to departments across the country.

Striving for success
During the session, attendees will be offered low- to no-cost strategies that are based on peer-reviewed research.

“The tools you learn in the discussion can be applied to divert both internal and external threats from becoming a crisis,” she said. “When things go wrong, it is important to remain transparent with stakeholders, apologize and communicate the corrective action plan.”

All participants will also receive a toolbox of free resources and strategies to safeguard their firehouse from landing on the front page of the newspaper for the wrong reasons.

“I value the integrity the fire service was founded upon and have a desire to see it remain one of the most respected professions,” she said.

In the end, she’s hoping attendees will learn best practices based on research to create an integrity-driven culture, prevent internal theft, discrimination, social media embarrassment and poor member behavior.

Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, is the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.