In an oddly timed move, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White has extended the Department’s ban on video cameras to those used as “helmet cams” by firefighters. The move comes after a SFFD Battalion Chief’s helmet cam imagery was shared via social media. The footage, taken during the July 6 Asiana Airlines crash rescue effort has resulted in questions about fire and other first responders’ actions during the incident.
The Fire Chief cited privacy concerns and said the issues of patient and firefighter privacy outweighs the value of having video footage. “There comes a time that privacy of the individual is paramount, of greater importance than having a video,” Hayes-White said.
Some members of the media, the legal profession, and even the San Francisco Fire Department take issue with the Chief’s ruling, and are concerned it is political in nature, and follows the capture of video footage showing 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan being run over and killed by an AARF apparatus. While the girl wasn’t visible, critics contend the footage clearly highlights a lack of situational awareness by the Battalion Commander during the rescue.
The San Francisco Police Department, which is looking into the circumstances surrounding Ye’s death, has a copy of the footage, as does the San Mateo County coroner, who determined that Ye was alive when she was run over. The footage is also in the hands of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is reviewing the overall incident.
Hayes-White banned video cameras in “any department facility” in 2009. “I think it is fairly clear,” she said. “Without someone’s permission, videos are not to be taken.”
It is not clear how many San Francisco firefighters and paramedics have such cameras, but their use has spread in recent years. Paramedics, in particular, say having still and video images can be helpful if patients question how they were treated before arriving at a hospital.
Footage shot with helmet cameras has been used as a learning device to train new firefighters, said Battalion Chief Kevin Smith, president of the employee group that includes Johnson, the Black Firefighters Association.