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Chief says taking pics is conduct unbecoming

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  • #16
    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?

    Comment


    • #17
      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, 03:47 PM.
      "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

      Comment


      • #18
        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.

        Stay Safe Brother
        Bull
        Stay Safe
        Bull


        “Guys if you get hurt, we’ll help you. If you get sick we’ll treat you. If you want to bitch and moan, then all I can tell you is to flick the sand out of your slit, suck it up or get the hell out!”
        - Capt. Marc Cox CFD

        Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.
        -WINSTON CHURCHILL

        Comment


        • #19
          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.
          FF-II/EMT-B/Incident Safety Officer/Photographer
          Lancaster Fire Department
          First run area (Fire): Lancaster, NH & Guildhall, VT (84.3 Sq Miles)
          First run area (Ambulance): Lancaster & Jefferson, NH; Gilman, Guildhall & Lunenberg, VT (185.1 Sq Miles)

          Comment


          • #20
            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."

            Comment


            • #21
              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.
              FF-II/EMT-B/Incident Safety Officer/Photographer
              Lancaster Fire Department
              First run area (Fire): Lancaster, NH & Guildhall, VT (84.3 Sq Miles)
              First run area (Ambulance): Lancaster & Jefferson, NH; Gilman, Guildhall & Lunenberg, VT (185.1 Sq Miles)

              Comment


              • #22
                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

                Comment


                • #23
                  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

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    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.
                    FF-II/EMT-B/Incident Safety Officer/Photographer
                    Lancaster Fire Department
                    First run area (Fire): Lancaster, NH & Guildhall, VT (84.3 Sq Miles)
                    First run area (Ambulance): Lancaster & Jefferson, NH; Gilman, Guildhall & Lunenberg, VT (185.1 Sq Miles)

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      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."

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Originally posted by NathanWert View Post
                        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.
                        If you take a picture in a Texas refinery/facility/R and D, you are potentially committing a crime under trade secret laws.

                        The "insinuation" or "underlying threat" from the FM would be that they would "ask" for possession of the camera and the memory card (since most cameras have built in memory) until the subpeona was finalized. It was followed by the Chief that allowing cameras was a training aid subject to banning on fire department contolled scenes if they became more than that and that they be made available upon request.

                        Personally, you may be right... most likely are since blowing smoke and idle threats are a cop's first tactic in getting what they want/need as quickly as possible (no offense intended to our enforcement brothers). But I will err on the good side in most cases when it comes to something like this.

                        Good discussion

                        Be safe, R2
                        Last edited by robertr2m; 04-25-2009, 07:48 PM.

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Originally posted by YoungsvilleFD View Post
                          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.
                          Wrong. There is no expectation of privacy while in public. That means anything in a roadway or publicly accessible area can be photographed. Publishing it is a different story.

                          FB

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by NathanWert View Post
                            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.
                            Not correct. If law enforcement deems that what has been photographed can be evidence they can and will impound the camera. In practice what they will do is make copies of the photograph.

                            FB

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Originally posted by firebug4 View Post
                              Not correct. If law enforcement deems that what has been photographed can be evidence they can and will impound the camera. In practice what they will do is make copies of the photograph.

                              FB
                              NEGATIVE.

                              A Search warrant, showing probable cause is needed. They may not just "impound" your camera.
                              "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Originally posted by FWDbuff View Post
                                NEGATIVE.

                                A Search warrant, showing probable cause is needed. They may not just "impound" your camera.

                                If the officer, in good faith, believes that evidence of a crime can be destroyed before a warrant can be obtained the camera can be taken into custody. A search warrant will then be obtained to gain access to the film or in most cases now the digital memory card. This can be done under the exigent circumstances interpretation of fourth amendment law.

                                Exigent circumstances are situations where immediate action is necessary. If the officer takes the time to get a warrant, evidence will be destroyed, life could be lost, or the suspect could escape. It is time consuming to get a warrant. First, the officer has to get the physical description of the place to be searched. A detailed affidavit, describing all the elements required by the court including the probable cause information, has to be crafted. In many jurisdictions, the District Attorney’s office has to review the affidavit. A judge then has to be contacted for his approval and signature. During normal business hours, this can take two to three hours. At night, or on weekends or holidays, this can take much longer. The Ninth Circuit Court in the case of United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1199 1984) provides a good definition of exigent circumstances-



                                Emergency conditions. 'Those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.'

                                FB

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