Applying CISD rules to social networking

CarolinaFireJournal - Tim Wojcik
Tim Wojcik
04/29/2011 -
Many of us are familiar with the concept of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD). As CISD has fallen out of popularity, I wonder if many firefighters and EMTs are using social networking more and more to “defuse and debrief” stressful situations. image

You may have seen several stories in the media lately where firefighters and paramedics have gotten “caught” making inappropriate comments on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In some cases, these people lost their jobs and in other cases they were actually sued by the family members of the patients that they bad mouthed. Yikes!

We could go back and forth on that all day ... throw in HIPAA and it gets even more convoluted. I personally don’t see any value in venting about that last call or patient on Facebook. And while CISD has been shown — in some cases — to have little to no value for responders, at least CISD has guidelines to follow. So, adapted from CISD, here are Capt. Wojcik’s guidelines for blowing off steam on a social networking site.


CISD meetings are supposed to be absolutely confidential. Obviously, what you are tweeting about is not going to be confidential. Confidentiality should protect our patients, property owners AND our partners and other responders. Just because you are OK posting something, doesn’t mean that the others involved are OK with it. You do not have the right to share other people’s experiences without their permission. If they were there with you, that is exactly what you are doing. If other people are involved, don’t post it without getting their permission first. Stuff that happens in the public’s eye, or comes across a public radio channel is a little different, but use your head and remember that your business may not be just YOUR business.

Keep it in the Family

Only people involved in the incident are allowed to help you blow off steam during a CISD meeting. These are the people you should be venting to, not your 673 friends on Facebook. If you really need to vent about something, don’t post it publically. Call someone who was there, or someone who you can confide in. I am not saying to shut up, and I am not saying to not vent. I am just saying use your head. If that was your mom’s house you just came from, would you really want someone posting about it to their 673 friends? I can hear some of you now — ”my mom’s house wouldn’t BE like THAT.”

No excuses. Everyone we meet is someone’s family. You wouldn’t want someone bad mouthing your family on Facebook, so don’t do it to theirs. Period.

It’s Not About Feelings

CISD meetings do not allow comments or criticisms about other people’s feelings, including those of your patient, customer or coworker. Everyone has the right to feel the way that they do. If someone responded differently to a situation, that doesn’t make them wrong. If someone disagrees with a comment you make on Facebook, the same applies. You can respectfully disagree with someone without making yourself look like an arrogant jerk. Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, it’s no big deal. It is their right.

Supportive Atmosphere

CISD meetings provide a positive, supportive and understanding atmosphere. Does your profile? I maintain a Facebook page for our battalion and one of my few rules is that negative comments will not be tolerated. Period. This page is our public face. Your profile is your public face, and like it or not, you are an extension of your agency or department. Agree or disagree, they do have the right to be concerned about what you post publically because it reflects upon them (see rule 1).

Speak for Yourself

The last rule of CISD that we will adapt to our social networking guidelines is that each person is supposed to speak for themselves. Keep things in the first person. So, if you are posting something that speaks on behalf of your partner, crew, patient or property owner, you need to reconsider your comments (again see rule 1).

In closing, I would just encourage you to be careful and use your head. Likewise, if your employer says not to post work related stuff online — just don’t do it. You don’t have to agree with them, but they are the boss of you. If you don’t like it, find another job.

One last thing, I just wanted to give a shout out to Engineer Brian Rowe at CCFR, Rich Cooper with Omniflight, the firefighters of LCFS Battalion 6 and my other 673 Facebook friends for helping me to come up with this quarter’s column idea! I would love to hear your comments on this.

Tim Wojcik works as an educator for the Palmetto Health/University of South Carolina School of Medicine Simulation Center in Columbia, SC. With 20 years of Fire and EMS experience, Wojcik’s major focus is the use of high tech/high fidelity simulation to train pre-hospital providers. He also owns a small educational consulting firm. For more information visit
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