Bel Air fire chief hopes others can learn from Facebook case

The four Bel Air firefighters suspended or demoted for comments they made on Facebook may appeal the disciplinary actions and several have expressed an interest in doing so, Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Chief Eddie Hopkins said Wednesday.

Their comments, which included suggestions someone should set a Dumpster fire at the Bel Air Sonic restaurant where they were denied a discount available to police and the military, and then not respond to the fire call, has cast a pall over the firehouse, the chief said.

Hopkins said he did not have a timeline for the appeals process, but expected it to play out soon.

"We want this done as soon as possible. We don't have a specific time frame," Hopkins said. "It's not a process that will drag on for weeks and weeks."

Hopkins declined to release the names of the four firefighters, who were suspended or demoted, as well as four others who were reprimanded, calling it a confidential personnel matter.

The fire company has been hit hard by the incident, which involved inappropriate posts made on a member's Facebook page after he complained about not receiving a discount at the Bel Air Sonic drive-in restaurant.

Some responses suggested they not respond to any fire calls at the business.

"The mood was pretty somber around the firehouse last night," Hopkins said, adding he suspects a generational divide on the issue.

"You have a lot of folks like me who don't deal with Facebook and Twitter," he said. "I think there was probably a younger generation that didn't understand what the big hoopla was, because their generation communicates that way."

"They may be under the impression that they can talk freely," he said.

Hopkins said he is hoping to find someone from the legal or corporate world to talk about social media and new technology platforms, and review the policy for the entire company.

"My goal is for my members to understand what they can and cannot do, and what they can and cannot say," he said. "They have to think about what they are saying and how it's going to be perceived by the public."

Hopkins said the incident continues to be "embarrassing" for him personally and professionally, and hopes others can learn from what happened to Bel Air.

"We have learned a valuable lesson by this," he said. "Hopefully, people will also learn a lesson from me and my firefighters."

"I don't want the community to lose faith in us, in any way, shape or form."

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