The D.C. Fire Department relaunched its popular Twitter feed Thursday, moving swiftly to head off concern that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was trying to quash the flow of emergency news updates.
During a closed-door meeting with Gray’s communications staff, Peter Piringer, chief spokesman for the Fire Department, was told he could resume posting updates as @dcfireems on Twitter about emergency calls immediately, administration officials said.
Oscar Mendez, another fire official, will also help Piringer manage social media for the department to ensure timely updates.
With the Internet changing how residents get their news, Piringer had embraced Twitter as a vehicle for getting out information about ongoing fire or ambulance calls.
But the department’s Twitter feed went dark late last month following concern from top officials that sensitive information was being posted. Around the same time, Piringer went on vacation.
In response to the move, members of the local media questioned Gray on Tuesday about whether he was abandoning his pledge of transparency.
During the tense exchange at the mayor’s biweekly press conference, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told reporters he had decided that Piringer’s tweets needed to be “filtered.” Ellerbe’s comments gained attention from tweeters and fire officials from across the country.
But Linda Wharton Boyd, Gray’s communications director, said the controversy largely stemmed from a misunderstanding. Instead of trying to stifle the flow of information, Boyd said the Gray administration is moving to aggressively expand their online presence.
D.C. police and the D.C. Department of Homeland Security also have Twitter accounts and have been instructed to post more frequently, officials said. Although there will be no “filter,” public information officials have been told to use more discretion when it comes to publicly revealing potentially sensitive information that could impair public safety.
“The FEMS account is back,” Boyd said. “They just didn’t know they were loved so much. They will never go on vacation again without a ‘Twitter sitter’.”
Members of the local District press corps have also expressed concerns about the police department’s efforts to encrypt its police radios so communications do not appear on scanners. Administration officials plan to meet with the press in coming days to try address those concerns.