The news today that a San Francisco Fire Captain was wearing a helmet mounted video camera during the Asiana crash rescue was quite something. Tragic details about the unnecessary death of the young traveler were caught on his camera providing priceless, objective information for the investigations and for reviewing procedures. This kind of information is not easy to digest nor is it something to be dismissed, yet that seems to have been the bureaucratically protective and regressive stance taken by the SF Fire Chief.
The Chief declared all cameras prohibited for fire dept staff. Blanket. Reinforcing a 2009 rule, this puts a clear message in writing for all to see. No cameras on duty. In any Fire Dept facilities.
There are numerous problems with this, some well detailed in the article.
Firstly this is a poorly timed public statement- when said video evidence is seeming indicting your own department for a horrible accident, now is not the time to ban all such devices- unless you straight up want to look protectionist and in over-up mode. Who really wants that?
Secondly, it shows a poor leadership approach. Given that multiple fireys seem to be wearing the devices and the Captain in question stated these are extremely valuable training and learning tools, it sends the wrong message that common innovative practice is frowned upon and not welcome. Bad move. Instead or rewarding creativity and progress, the Chief is slamming it.
Lastly, and this may be a behind the scenes reality, the Chief is losing the opportunity to learn from a delicate and tough situation – failing to adapt the new knowledge available and use it in the smartest way possible. The message to the department and the public should have been that the use of cameras has been forbidden in the past, but this incident brings up a valuable perspective and the chance to review this policy and to develop solid guidelines for the safe, privacy protecting use of cameras in future.
HIPPA isn’t some bogeyman that disallows all information collection, it’s a set of guidelines as to what you can and cannot do. The use of helmet and other mounted cameras seems like an incredible value to our fire and rescue forces. Good leadership takes a innovative approach to legal limitations and finds ways to support the good thinking of staff.
Simply reiterating the public message that cameras are banned presents all the wrong messages.