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 They actually have documents and policies available for departments to use to keep issues from arising and offering oversight with helmet camera usage.