This morning I read a San Fransisco Chronicle article detailing the San Fran fire chief’s edict banning the use of helmet cameras by on duty firefighters. Prompted by the viral spread of a helmet camera video shot by SF Battalion Chief Mark Johnson during the response to the Asiana Airways plane crash, she cited concerns about patient privacy; ” “There comes a time that privacy of the individual is paramount, of greater importance than having a video,” Chief Joanna Hayes-White said.
Excuse me? Really? In this particular case, it has nothing to do with patient privacy, but everything to do with liability, public perception and enforcement of policy. Due to a lack of communication and fireground situational awareness, one of the airplane passengers was run over by a ARFF rig and killed, and the whole thing was caught on a battalion chief’s helmet camera. This circumstance is beyond tragic, made even more so by the BC’s graphic video and pictures showing the victim’s last moments.
The department had banned unauthorized video recording in 2009, but apparently had not specifically addressed the use of helmet cameras. Well, duh, helmet cameras were not in widespread use back then. But, once they hit the market, they took off like wildfire (pun intended). In fact, one of my esteemed colleagues and friend, retired news broadcaster and fire service stalwart Dave Statter, has a website that routinely posts helmet camera videos of firefighters “doing their thing”. As a seasoned (make that old and retired) fire service veteran, I enjoy watching these videos, as I understand exactly what is going on. Yet, at the same time I’m concerned that those uninitiated to the objectives, strategies, tactics and terminology of the profession can-and do- misinterpret what is seen and heard during the fog of war. Add the complexity of public records disclosure laws and you have a recipe for a disaster compounded.
If you are a fire service administrator responsible for the strategic dissemination of public information from your agency, take a look at your policies related to on duty use of cellphones, videos, audio recording and helmet cameras. If you don’t have a policy on their use, you need to make one, and pronto…before someone like me says-“I Told Ya So”