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PA Commissioners Ban Helmet Cameras. I Say They Got it All Wrong. Read Why!

Fire Commissioners in North Versailles, PA have banned helmet cameras.

I am sure they are all sitting around patting themselves on their backs and thinking that their accomplishment will help solve the problem they have. I disagree. I think they have failed on a very basic fundamental objective in managing/leading firefighters and fire department(s).

According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, firefighters who continue to use helmet cameras will be removed as firefighters.

According to the report: 

A member of the Fire Department of North Versailles, using a helmet cam, video and audiotaped West Wilmerding Fire Chief Dan Duncan at a recent fire saying he had had a drink, and wasn’t in command of the fire scene, Paul Saula said. Paul Saula said the FDNV firefighters were trying to get Mr. Duncan in trouble, but didn’t realize the fire was just across the street from his house.

This is the way I see it… They had a personnel issue with a firefighter(s) who  were potentially trying to get someone else in trouble using helmet camera video. The helmet cameras didn’t do anything wrong. The firefighters using them for ill-intent did. This is like saying guns kill people, not the people pulling the trigger.

I often teach on social media and have included helmet camera usage into my talks. Much like all of social media, helmet cameras are another tool for firefighters to show off their pride in what they do. The bonus for helmet cameras is that they are hands free and do not take away from tasks that firefighters might be performing.

I do agree that there should be oversight in how firefighters are using helmet camera videos OR that there should be policy on what can and what cannot be shared from video taken at an incident.

All the North Versailles, PA commissioners really accomplished was airing the fact that they cannot control their personnel and probably pissing off a lot of firefighters who were using helmet cameras ethically.

As for the actual video that was captured by the helmet camera in the incident above, that could have just as easily been captured by a bystander on cell phone camera and uploaded to the internet before the crews were done mopping up.

One other misconception detailed in the report is that in order to mount the cameras to your helmet you have to drill holes in the helmet, possibly invalidates the warranty. There are plenty of mounts that do not require drilling holes. Again, if your firefighters are drilling holes in their helmets for any reason, you have an issue you have to deal with. Teach them that drilling holes is not acceptable.

As for the firefighter who used the helmet camera video against the Fire Chief…get rid of him. Or, at the very least, follow your policies for disciplining the firefighter.

The issues I have seen reported online in relation to firefighters doing something wrong on social media and/or using helmet cameras incorrectly have always been a personnel issue.

The example I like to use is this…

If you have a firefighter who blows through red lights on the way to calls (and it is against policy as it should be), what do you do? Do you get rid of fire apparatus so firefighters can’t blow through red lights…or do you discipline the firefighter, teach them, and offer training as to why it is policy to stop at red lights?

Furthermore, I feel as though helmet camera video has many benefits on a personal level, local level, and fire service level. Personally, firefighters can view the outcome of their actions on scene and learn from what they did/didn’t do. Locally, firefighters can learn from what happened on scene from actual video footage and not simply on the memory of what firefighters did. Often times, we leave out details of what we did wrong and we don’t learn from it. Video drives home the points and keeps us from hiding from our mistakes.

IMG_2034Ultimately, the fire service can learn from incidents every day as they view new helmet camera video from other departments. Not too many firefighters are fighting fires every day. This is a great way of training.

There are many other positives… Recruitment and Retention, Investigation, Reviewing safety concerns, Actually seeing what the firefighters are doing on scene, and learning from incidents are just a few.

Oh, and if you are looking for a helmet camera, might I suggest FireVideo.net. They actually have documents and policies available for departments to use to keep issues from arising and offering oversight with helmet camera usage.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • West Michigan Chief

    The problem is not the camera, it is the firefighter who feels that the video is his, and that he can do with it as he pleases. Getting the video from him is almost impossible. Courts have ruled that video taken while on duty is subject to department control, but again, by the time it can be viewed, and then a decision made on it, it has already been downloaded. I have thought of buy camera’s that would be department owned and mounting those on certain firefighter’s helmets, then taking the camera’s off and downloading the images to the department computer and deleting the camera. Since most firefighters I have talked to think they are okay, I find that they really do not see the problem. We do not allow helmet camera, in the past year I have had at least three incidents where cell phone pictures were taken by members of my department that were then posted to either their facebook page or the department facebook page, and no someone started the page about us. It is not our page, we have no control over what the individual that set it up puts up. In all incidents, the pictures were unprofessional, or infringed on the victims rights. In all case, the picture were taken down, but all three firefighters were issued verbal reprimands. I have better things to do then to spend 2-3 hours a day checking every members facebook page or looking or photos they may have posted to YOU TUBE or who know where else. Heck, I’m not even friends with half of them.

  • Average Jake

    In my FD we ban helmet cameras s well, and all pictures taken on scene are the departments property.
    Personally I see both sides. There are a TON of responsible people out there who like to take pics, and video on scene who even when they post them are respectful. I even knew guys before they where banned that even edited them to keep peoples faces, addresses etc. out of them.
    The other side is that there are a lot of people who do the exact opposite.
    Me personally I used to take pics all of the time just for my own personal scrap book, but when they became “department property” I stopped taking them on duty. If I take pictures of fires now it is off duty in a public place. I just personally feel it violated my beliefs about what truly is mine to keep and do with what I want, so I no longer choose to participate, but I do understand the policy. The policy is not wrong or right I just believe in being over governed but that’s a national issue as well.
    I think we have missed some wonderful things that could have been used for training, and education. I am glad there are other buffs out there that have been able to capture fires all over the world so that all can learn from it.
    Like I said I get both sides of it, and as long as it is being used for good I see no issue with video, pictures, etc. In fact all departments should embrace these tools not fear them.

  • Wade Griggs

    if you buy your own cam it is yours not the departments, that’s the problem I have with it, that’s why they should be banned. if the department wants cams, buy them and use them, I do not think they should be used on crash scenes period because the people in the crash have not and will not give permission to be recorded.
    just my opinion. Wade Griggs Captain GCFR

  • Firefighter60

    I am a Captain on a small Vol fire dept. We have placed Camera’s in service with a strict policy to go by. At first some firefighters were sceptical about them, but right after the first call that they were used on, they quickly became supporters of the cameras. It gave us the ability to look back at what was or wasn’t done and make changes for future emergencies. The whole point of my dept using them is to allow us the opperitunity to make improvments on our actions. Making us better at what we do. A neighboring dept has since also added cameras after seeing the benefits it brought to us. I heard from 1 of their firefighters after the first call that they used cameras on, and it prompted them to do some training on the tasks that they had performed at the call, because they made some mistakes. The thing with the cameras is how and what you use them for, and how well you can regulate its use. If a firefighter violates the procedure there needs to be a punishment. It is a tool that can be used to make you and your dept better and safer. If it can make your fd better and safer its really a no-brainer!!! Get a camera and use it right!!

  • Bryan W. Waagner

    There is obviously way deeper issues at play here. There is obviously a problem possibly with alcohol and responding to calls. If the chief was there in official capacity then I think it is within the rights of a firefighter under his command to be able to question his sobriety. This isn’t play time. What we do has inherent danger and I want to be sure those ordering me into a situation have not imbibed alcohol. To simply ban cameras based on this example is foolish and short sided. It also shows the lack of vision, leadership and management skills the department has. I love hearing about officers disciplining a whole company or department for the indiscretions of one or two guys. It does nothing but decrease morale. On the surface here it makes me question the department’s transparency and makes me wonder what other improprieties are occurring. I think this sort of ruling is the lazy officer’s way out. Its easier to blanket punish instead of confront the problem and deal with it. With the way departments are under attack by government for funding and staffing this sort of petty nonsense does nothing but cast the fire service in a poor light.