CARMEL, Ind. – In a world of clicks, views and likes, a simple tweet can be a powerful tool if used correctly, while at the same time a detriment for first responders. The Carmel Fire Department (CFD) noticed the issue during this week’s explosion at Carmel High School.
“Sometimes people think they know what is happening, [and] they may start to put out what they are hearing, that they think they are seeing, and that can put out a lot of confusion,” CFD Public Information Officer (PIO) Tim Griffin said.
Carmel Fire took to their Facebook page to notify people that they shouldn’t be putting their own spin online regarding situations like Wednesday’s explosion at the high school. CFD went on to add that people were posting pictures of patients and minors from the scene.
“Quit talking on that social media for a minute, and just listen,” Griffin said with a smile. “I mean that in the nicest way.”
First responders work through the media to release a uniform response of information, without too many unnecessary details. Even posting a picture of a car wreck can capture a license plate that may alert family members too soon.
“We have our CFD 911 runs on Twitter,” Griffin said. “We put our pertinent information.”
Using Facebook live at a scene can also lead to unintentional consequences. While someone is wandering around giving their play-by-play of the situation, something tragic could happen behind them. Since the video is live, it will be broadcast to Facebook immediately. For this reason, Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) Public Information Officer Rita Reith does not use the function while on scene.
“The last thing I want is to have a firefighter fall off a roof, and have their loved one at home watching that live on Facebook,” Reith said.
Several years ago, a structure collapsed at an Indianapolis business, killing a worker inside. When IFD arrived on scene, they heard talk of pictures from inside the structure already being put on social media. The family of the victim learned about their loss online.
“As the PIO I’m playing catch up, trying to get more information from going out, because we had a lot of investigation to do,” Reith said.
Captain Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police (ISP) likens social media to a car. He said it can be used to drive you to work, or to rob a bank. The platforms caused a spiral of amateur sleuths to post theories about the possible identity of the Delphi killer.
“One thing that you can be assured of, is if we are going to post it, we’re going to take the utmost care in how we post it,” Reith said.
What you may not know is, IFD often gets permission from homeowners before posting pictures of fire damage just in case there’s something they don’t want shown. These posts can often lead to community support for those victims.