1. #1

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    Default Chief says taking pics is conduct unbecoming

    I work for a paid department with 40 members in Mississippi. Recently a lieutenant complained that a firefighter took a photo using his cellphone camera on the scene of a MVA. The chief issued a memo in response saying a new policy had been implemented that any member taking a photograph using a cellphone or any type camera at any scene our department was working whether it be a fire, MVA, anything, whether member was on duty or off duty, will be disciplined as conduct unbecoming an officer of the department and face suspension. When pointed out that any member of the public can photograph anything in public view he stated that we were covered under HIPA and could be civilly liable if a patient was photographed. I think he's wrong but who am I to argue with the chief? What do y'all think? I thought taking pictures at scenes was alright as long as it was done tastefully and not done to purposefully show victims or blood and gore. Does anyone else have policies like this? What about the unbecoming charge threatened? Is simply taking a picture couduct unbecoming an officer?

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    Thumbs up In a word - Depends

    If the photo shows a person or anything that could identify a person (licence plate for example) it is common decency to get their written permission before taking the shot. If you can't get this for whatever reason, then put the camera away. Simple.

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    Default we'll see

    I just think taking a picture of a house on fire is not conduct unbecoming, forget the MVA's. Just pictures of fires are actually useful. How interesting would Firehouse Magazine be if every department had the "no photograph" rule? I re-read his memo and he says that only the incident commander can give permission for someone to take pictures. I'll just start establishing incident command when I arrive on scene and then give myself permission.

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    I'm with the chief on this one. I'm not sure about the "conduct unbecoming" part, but the release of fire department information from an incident should be controlled.

    Pictures taken ( and I'm in favor of taking a lot of pics ) from a department camera should be reviewed before release, ensuring that they don't contain anything personal or otherwise distasteful. If you don't agree with me that's fine, a lot of lawyers out there would love to prove you wrong so that they might get a paycheck.

    As for HIPPA, you may or may not be covered. I don't know your operation so I cannot comment. My dept is not but in the interests of good taste and preserving the privacy of those we deal with we work under the same privacy rules HIPPA requires.

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    The Chief is right, the wrong photo can spell disaster for the Dept. But he's taking it too far. To bar all photos by virtually all personnel is nonsense.

    I keep a digicam with me almost every shift. I use it to document any interesting calls we run. But I only break it out after all the patients are clear of the scene, or my work in fighting fire are done.

    Most Stations in my dept have a large board that they tape photos too. It gets pretty crazy. Training exercises, vehicles overturned, funny moments in the firehouse, crazier moments out having fun. They all make it to "The Board."
    The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. --Norman Mattoon Thomas, 6 time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America

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    It is simple, the chief is right. Call it the rule of 5.
    He who has 5 makes the rules

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    I work at a health clinic and as far as the HIPPA thing that is not totally true. HIPPA is about protecting patient info such as socials and stuff. kjohn23 i totally agree with you because at the end of the day who is in charge even if you like it or not. But i wouldn't say it would be a hippa violating to take a photo on a scene. And if it where just look at how many people would be violating it just on this website.

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    For us, We cannot take photos of anything that involves a patient. In addition it is a law in our county that NO ONE may take a photo of a death scene whether a body is there or not, only the coroner may photograph this. (That means the car, the scene, the house, the whatever). Its all about patient privacy.

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    Default pics of wrecks or fires

    these pictures are valuable to the department when critique time comes...BUT never take a picture of a wreck while the patient is still in or around the car.......patient must be in ambulance before the camera comes out.............and on the fire ground...we take all the pictures we can get....but all pictures are on the department camera and come back to the station for review by the chief officers.......they do not find their way to the tv stations for instant reporting....

    If it's done correctly---------then it's very valuable.....

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    Default What's important?

    Quote Originally Posted by altonscott View Post
    I just think taking a picture of a house on fire is not conduct unbecoming, forget the MVA's. Just pictures of fires are actually useful. How interesting would Firehouse Magazine be if every department had the "no photograph" rule? I re-read his memo and he says that only the incident commander can give permission for someone to take pictures. I'll just start establishing incident command when I arrive on scene and then give myself permission.
    So taking photographs is more important than the incident?

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    Here's my advice,

    If there is a policy no matter what, and the Chief spells it out, then the catch all "conduct unbecoming" will catch anything he wants.
    Trust me on this I spent the latter half of last year fighting a "conduct unbecoming" charge and I didn't get disciplined, but it's on my record.
    Pretty much covers what ever they want,

    Good luck
    Josh Ball
    FF/EMT - Zoneton Fire Protection District
    PSO II - Louisville International Airport
    Deputy - Bullitt County Sheriff's Office

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    Default

    I think we all agree that photos and video can be a valuable debriefing and training tool- at least insofar as what I've read above.

    The way it's best been described to me in the past was minimizing the opportunity for misperception. Sure, we have a camera on the rig for the officer or designated person to take angle shots of the wreck once the patient is clear and the job is over. If one person is responsible for it, at least we can be accountable for that. Make sure that it's written up in the SOG/Ps that this is an expected task so that if litigation for whatever reason ensues there is a list of protocols that legitimizes it.

    Unfortunately, no matter what we do, we're always going to irritate SOMEONE- someone's always going to have that complaint regardless of whether or not it's because a crew wants to go do some PT at the local soccer field, go and sit down at a local restaurant for lunch or wash the trucks outside in the sun. Frick... WE even get in trouble for parking in the fire lane!

    I agree with the Chief on this one too... the more time spent dangling on a call is time that a crew spends on a highway, or deployed on a call when it should be on its way back to quarters to get the rig back in service. It looks hoakie to have a bunch of guys even HAVING their cells on a call at all, nevermind taking photos with them. People take enough offense at the black humour that we suppress until we're on the rig... nevermind taking cellphone photos of a fatality accident. How does the saying go? No pictures no proof? Well... now they have pictures.

    It's also VERY hard to control photos if they're taken from a phone or on a person by person basis... Sure- YOU don't have any ill intent... not always the case. Nothing spices up a facebook page like a few exciting extrication photos and the last structure you attended.


    Anyways- I see both sides of it too... but the more professional side is winning out on this one. Maybe having a helmet cam is the answer? Unfortunately, those images can be used for good AND bad. Scan some youtube videos of bad driving... would HATE to have that "riding" on my shoulders.
    Ian "Eno" McLeod

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    the story goes a man commited suicide the coroner and the coroners assistant came and took photos of the body.well the assistant took a picture of it with her phone and started sending it to people. it got back to a guy that i work with at the station.. The man that commited suicide just happened to be his uncle. they traced the picture back to the assistant and he sued her they recently settled out of court for 680,000 dollars because it was so emotionaly troubling. he is now going to therapy and couciling 2 days a week and has been on stress leave for 9 months. think about it when you want to take that picture.

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    Default Chief is right

    I'm going with the chief on this one too. You cant take pictures of anything without written consent. Besides how useful is pictures of an MVA to a firefighter? Every MVA is different.

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    Quote Originally Posted by altonscott View Post
    I work for a paid department with 40 members in Mississippi. Recently a lieutenant complained that a firefighter took a photo using his cellphone camera on the scene of a MVA. The chief issued a memo in response saying a new policy had been implemented that any member taking a photograph using a cellphone or any type camera at any scene our department was working whether it be a fire, MVA, anything, whether member was on duty or off duty, will be disciplined as conduct unbecoming an officer of the department and face suspension. When pointed out that any member of the public can photograph anything in public view he stated that we were covered under HIPA and could be civilly liable if a patient was photographed. I think he's wrong but who am I to argue with the chief? What do y'all think? I thought taking pictures at scenes was alright as long as it was done tastefully and not done to purposefully show victims or blood and gore. Does anyone else have policies like this? What about the unbecoming charge threatened? Is simply taking a picture couduct unbecoming an officer?
    There has to be more to this story. You are saying that this policy states anyone on your department is facing suspension if they take photos of "ANY" call?

    So photos of at a fire investigation are subject to this policy? Photos documenting HazMat response and what made it or did not make it to the storm drain is subject to said policy.... HIPPA is for medical information not fire scenes.

    There is a reason for the saying "Never say Never."

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    Default photos

    Nope, there is nothing more than I said in my original post. For clarification, the new chief is a good guy. He's trying to do whats right. I understand that. But this came about because he read a story somewhere where a firefighter took a picture and posted it on You Tube or somewhere like that and got the department into trouble. The picture was of a patient. Then about the same time he read that, a firefighter took a picture at a wreck scene and a lieutenant complained. Well he issued the new policy the same day instead of getting on the firefighter that did it. Instead he made up the "no pictures" rule that covers everything. No pictures of anything whatsoever. Period. Thats the rule. No pictures of fires or anything. Forget the patient/victim pictures for a second. We've never had a problem or an instance of anyone taking a picture of a victim. I've been with this department for 25 years and I know that for a fact. We don't do medical response except for the occasional wreck and it would be simple to make the rule to say no pictures when a patient or victim is on the scene. But my original question posted was this. "Is taking a picture at a fire scene (not of a patient) grounds for conduct unbecoming of an officer", if taking the picture does not interfere with doing your job? Since when should conduct unbecoming an officer be a catch all for rule violations? That term sounds immoral or something. "You were late for work, now you'll have a conduct unbecoming charge on your record." "You took a picture of a V pattern on a wall or of an apparatus pumping on a scene, you'll now have a conduct unbecoming charge on your record." WHERE DOES IT END?

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    I have been both a firefighter (19.5 yrs) and an active fireground photographer for well over 20+ years. I used to be an active participating member of several fire-buff oriented photographers associations, and I also held a press ID issued by a major metropolitan police department for about 5 years or so. I have crossed this issue numerous times, both in uniform and out.

    All photos taken while in a certain organization's uniform are for the sole use of that particular group or department. My only condition of use with/for them is that I must receive credit for the photo, and if they choose to disburse the photo, again I must be properly credited.

    When out of uniform, and on my own time, my photos are for my use, whether it be personal (making albums, disbursement to magazines or news outlets, arranging training programs, sales to the public, etc....)

    The laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are simple. If a photo is taken from a public right-of-way, it is fair game. Doesn't matter if individuals are able to be identified within the picture or not. However, if you choose to identify the individual such as for a caption in a newspaper (example: "Firefighters work to free Joe Public, 24, from the wreckage of his automobile at an accident which ocurred at 6th and Vine streets) you may need to obtain permission under certain circumstances.

    Now, do I agree with the Chief? To a certain extent I do. It's not your job on the fireground to take pictures. If you are wearing bunker gear, your job is to locate, confine, and extinguish the fire. Concern yourself with these issues. The Chief has a legitimate gripe- perhaps he does not want the homeowner or occupants of a property seeing one of his members taking pictures, as if a Hollywood Starlet just showed up.

    In that I disagree with the Chief, I think that any and all photos taken on the fireground can be invaluable training tools, as well as having legitimate investigative uses, especially if photos of the firebuilding are taken while the fire is in it's incipient phases. I have shared hundreds of my shots with various Fire Marshal's Offices, and two photos in particular were used as evidence in court.

    Now, getting back to the "On-Duty, In Uniform" thing: What the Chief says, goes. If he issued an order, you follow it, plain and simple, or suffer the consequences. Any Officer's orders should be taken as the word of God, unless it will place you in a potentially life-threatening position. Choosing to question an Officer's orders (especially those of the Chief) is not an option you have. Off-Duty? If he were to discipline you, and you chose to fight it, I don't think he would have a leg to stand on.

    I'm pretty sure it's safe to say that you have never served in the military, or else this topic never would have come up.
    Last edited by FWDbuff; 04-19-2009 at 04:47 PM.
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    Just remember two things and you will never have a problem with the brass.
    Rule Number One: The Boss is always right!
    Rule Number Two: When the Boss is wrong refer back to rule number one!
    Logic has nothing to do with it. If you use logic it will only drive you crazy.

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    I agree with FWDbuff on the uses of photo's.

    I too am the local fire department photographer. I carry my camera (Canon EOS digital rebel XSi) with me on EVERY call. The first thing I do is my job as a firefighter, THEN I switch to photographer mode once the scene is under control. Unless, there is enough personnel that I can go straight to photography mode. The last is a decision based on my own and the incident commanders opinion at the time and with regard to the specific incident

    There have been times that I've forgotten my camera and the chief (and some officers) would actually give me a hard time (jokingly). There have also been times where they've asked for specific photo's for post-incident-debriefing. We also carry digital camera's on the trucks (just not very good ones).

    As for HIPAA, I just wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services about photography and HIPAA, and I'll let everyone know when I get a reply.

    However, common courtesy and decency should come into play and you should decide what to take pictures of. Most of the photo's taken by our department are for internal use only. Vary rarely do we give them out, and then primarily to the newspaper as a public relations act.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanWert View Post
    As for HIPAA, I just wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services about photography and HIPAA, and I'll let everyone know when I get a reply.
    Nathan, when you say you wrote a letter, was that as a uniformed member of your department, or as a member of thr public taking photos on your own time?? Just curious. I think I know what the answer is, but I await your official answer.

    Cut-and-pasted from my own posting:

    "When out of uniform, and on my own time, my photos are for my use, whether it be personal (making albums, disbursement to magazines or news outlets, arranging training programs, sales to the public, etc....)

    The laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are simple. If a photo is taken from a public right-of-way, it is fair game. Doesn't matter if individuals are able to be identified within the picture or not. However, if you choose to identify the individual such as for a caption in a newspaper (example: "Firefighters work to free Joe Public, 24, from the wreckage of his automobile at an accident which ocurred at 6th and Vine streets) you may need to obtain permission under certain circumstances."
    "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

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    I asked in both capacities: on duty and off duty both as an EMT doing patient care, and not doing patient care, and as a firefighter.

    I forgot to stop at the mailbox today, so the letter will have to go out tomorrow.

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    I have some experience with HIPAA regs and to be honest, it really doesn't specifically cover first responder's per se with the exception of EMS that have direct patient contact and treatment. It does have some training scenerio guidlelines but even that's lean.

    It allows civil damages in the event someone breeches the confidentiallity so erroring on the good side is probably the best course to take.

    I did a quick search on the documents to make sure but photography isn't even mentioned to the best of my knowldege (not to say that it's covered under something else that is in legalese).

    That said...
    The departments I have had the honor of being a member of has a basic policy of pictures are ok as long as long as they do not identify the victim in anyway and are disseminated in a tasteful manner. Recently, the Fire Marshall made it clear that any video or digital cameras would have to be collected and held as evidence if they recorded or had been active on a crime (or potential) crime scene. This was mainly a way to warn us about the helmet cams and not turning them on during an MVA or fire fatality and just letting them go w/o being selective about what images where recorded and that they could be collected for a long time if needed as evidence.

    Industry usually has a policy that no pictures can be taken onsite w/o specific permission of a manager or your a pre authorized individual and then all pictures are required to be reviewed by management before they can be released. If you happen to be a municipal responder responding on site, they can confiscate the camera and possibly impose civil action against you. Falls under the trade secret laws from what I'm told.

    I was a first responder to the BP - Texas City and recieved photos on email a day or two after the incident which was followed the next day by a frantic "delete the damn things and don't forward them to anyone!" It ended badly for this person that sent them out as they where photos taken during the SAR and initial response. They where graphic.

    I personally am not into blood and gore pics (even though most civilian friends and acquaintances feel it's helping me do my job to send them to me) unless they have some educational value and even then I am very hesitant about who sees them and the context they are presented. A) I see this crap for real so why memoralize it and B) If I was having the worst day of my life, I wouldn't want some woowoo taking pictures of me. Basic mutual respect in my opinion.

    Now this is concerning bodies and injuries, not the fire/MVA/rescue iteself. I have set up a jaws drill with a local junkyard in the past using pictures I got from a well known and respected website to simulate the extrication. These guys pulled cars from the yard and stacked them just like the pictures. Was a damned good and informative drill.

    Be safe, R2

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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanWert View Post
    I asked in both capacities: on duty and off duty both as an EMT doing patient care, and not doing patient care, and as a firefighter.

    I forgot to stop at the mailbox today, so the letter will have to go out tomorrow.
    Nathan, I would be very interested in seeing the reply. Please post if/when you get a response. Thanks !!!

    Be safe, R2

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    Quote Originally Posted by robertr2m View Post
    Recently, the Fire Marshall made it clear that any video or digital cameras would have to be collected and held as evidence if they recorded or had been active on a crime (or potential) crime scene. This was mainly a way to warn us about the helmet cams and not turning them on during an MVA or fire fatality and just letting them go w/o being selective about what images where recorded and that they could be collected for a long time if needed as evidence.

    Be safe, R2
    Actually, NOBODY can confiscate your camera without a court order. It's illegal. Even law enforcement can't do it. Unless you use the camera in the commission of a crime (bash someone in the head with it). They can't even make you delete your photo's. They can take you "downtown", but in most cases they end up turning you loose with all of your stuff.

    The photographers bill of rights... http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf

    That said...The ethics of taking photo's on a fire scene are different from the legalities. I took photo's of a fatal car accident (drive was decapitated). However, those photo's were for accident reconstruction and Fire/State Police use only.

    Most accidents I try not to focus on the face of anyone (except rescue persons or bystanders). I will take shots of extrication, but again, I try to stay away from faces if possible.

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    Actually Nathan, this goes back to the "on duty in uniform" thing, which is what I believe robert was referring to, as he specifically mentioned helmet cams and digital pics. If the policy of their department and/or fire marshal is such, and the pics were taken while on duty, I dont think there is anything that can stop them, although if the equipment itself is privately owned, they would be hard pressed to hold on to it. I believe legally however they can hold the film and/or memory cards.

    As for the oil refinery thing, having experience working in the Petrochemical Industry in Philadelphia, I know first hand how sensitive they are to photography, and that was BEFORE 9-11.........Photos taken on private property are subject to review and approval by the property owner.

    As I stated in my first post, ANYTHING taken while standing in or on a public right-of-way is fair game when you are off duty.

    Bottom line, when you are "on duty" whether as a volunteer or a career man, the rights to the pictures becomes a whole different ball game.
    "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

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