Be Nice (The Keene Video)

Bad day for a fire Captain in Keene, NH. I came across a video of him on Twitter this morning. It’s being tweeted around the fire / EMS circles. Apparantly this Captain from a New Hampshire fire department was caught on video making some erroneous claims about HIPAA privacy and then swiping a dudes cell phone camera.

If you’d like to watch the video you can find it, with additional commentary, here.

I’m guessing this captain probably didn’t read my Four Lessons From The OSP State Trooper EMS Mess post. I’m afraid this stuff is going to happen to us more and more as cell phone and digital videos become more popular. The guys shooting this particular video have a clear political objective. They could care less about the incident or the victim.  They are so caught up in their own freedom crusade that they feel justified in disregarding the privacy (and dignity) of the patient and the ability of the uniformed personal to just do their job unaccosted.

The story they want to tell is a story about public safety personnel abusing their power and they’re willing to be incredibly obnoxious to try to bait one of us into the game. In this case they hit the jackpot. First the captain makes a false statement into the camera. Then he threatens them. Then he physically takes the camera away and gives it to someone else on scene.

The dude doing all the questioning and yelling has no interest in what’s really happening. He wants a reaction. The more volatile the better. Notice how any time anyone pays the least bit of attention to him he runs up and gets in their face? When the camera gets grabbed he goes off like a 3 year old on Christmas morning. He’s in heaven. He knows he’s hit the jackpot.

This is the same routine that Andrew Meyer put on at The University of Florida (“Don’t Tase me bro.”) Crying out like a victim while physically resisting and fighting the officers charged with the safety of the event. And that brings us to an important point. Guys like this want you to look bad. They would like nothing more than to catch you on a bad day and get some video of you being verbally or physically unprofessional. They’re know that they can be as obnoxious as they like. They have us between a rock and a hard place. What should we do?

The captain made three unfortunate mistakes here. First, he made a false statement. Second, he made a threat. Third, he physically took the camera when it was not his right to do so. Here are three better alternatives.

1.) Protect the patient from the camera man.

Once you know that this tool is running around the scene shooting video, make an effort to cover and protect the patient from the camera. There is no law prohibiting people from shooting video in a public area. A good rule of thumb is that if you and the person with the camera can both look up and see the sky together, you are in public. If you are on public property and there is no standing rule prohibiting use of cameras, you are in public.

Note: If the person shooting the video decides to make your face and identity a subject in the video you may have some rights after the fact, but you do not have the right to force them to stop shooting.

If you are on private property, the owners of the home or venue have the right to dictate rules about filming. Inside their home, they make the rules. Inside your rig, you can make the rules.

And for the record, when treating a patient in public, you can’t cite HIPAA as a reason to shut the camera off. HIPAA  guidelines are fairly clear on this point. Someone seeing you patient on the pram, on a public sidewalk, would be an incidental disclosure of the patients identity. Neither the crew members or the camera man were violating HIPAA regulations.

Instead of getting in an argument about legality, property and confidentiality, protect the patients dignity, shield them when possible and get them to a place of privacy as soon as possible. If you start in with the bravado this guy is going to be on you like a bee to honey.

2.) Talk really nice.

We’ve discussed this point before, but it bears repeating. Talk nice to this guy. (Scratch that – talk nice to everyone.) Even if you need to physically move this guy out of your way for the patients safety, talk nice while your doing it. Don’t let him make you into the bad guy like he did with this poor dude.

“Sir could you please stand back, we’re trying to help this person.”

I’m sorry I can’t answer questions right now.”

“Sir could you please respect this mans privacy and turn your camera off?”

You can stay nice and tell him everything you need to say. Even if you need to put a hand on him and move him, keep talking nice and explaining what you’re doing. Even if you need to get a property owner or law enforcement involved, keep talking nice. It’s pretty clear listening to this guy on the other end of his camera that he’s a jerk. Don’t let him suck you in to his game.

3.) Keep your hands away from his camera.

There’s no way to take a running camera away from someone without looking like you’re hiding something. 60 minutes figured this out in 1968. If your want to imply that someone is guilty of something, there’s just nothing better than some footage of the person trying to cover up the camera and not answer questions. When you see it you immediately think, “Well, what does that guy have to hide?”

Don’t get intimidated by that camera. You’re doing your job and you’re doing it well. You have nothing to hide from the world. The camera is just like any other bystander on the scene. Protect your patient and your safety but don’t run from the camera. The minute you try to cover up, obscure the camera or take it away you look like some accused criminal doing a perp walk on TV. Be on your best behavior and forget about it.


Related Articles:

The Oklahoma Trooper vs EMS Mess


You Can’t Give Away What You Don’t Have


  1. Timothy Clemans says:

    Part of being a professional is being a professional all the time. If an EMT is unprofessional when confronted by an obnoxious bystander then he’s likely to be unprofessional anytime things aren’t going just right.

    EMTs in general are not well respected and videos like this are demonstrating that some don’t deserve respect. Is EMS going to be a profession of professionals or just a job carried out by a bunch of jerks?

  2. Sean Fontaine says:

    Ah, reminds of the home (NH) I left 14 years ago when I moved out to CO. In the end if we’re not focusing on our patients we’re not really doing them any good are we? Also, as we were reminded before the DNC last summer, it takes 30 secs or less to upload video onto a laptop and 90 secs or less to distribute it internationally.

  3. I don’t want to bash this dude to bad. He made some mistakes but I’ve had bad days before and I’ve had bad interactions before. I’ve certainly had some stuf go down and wished I could have done it better. I think he’s probably having one of those moments right now.

    We just have to hope that, when it’s our turn to make those mistakes we don’t do it in front of a jerk with a camera and a web site.

    And, ideally, we’re prepared ahead of time and can avoid having the moment at all.

  4. I think misunderstanding HIPAA is more common than we realize. I’ve had the same thing raised by not only EMTs, but Supervisors and even a Director claiming the same thing to someone taking a photograph on a public street or at a public event.

    Things like this help to fuel not only activists but also the outcry about the War On Photography that has occurred, partly in the name of Homeland Security. Ultimately I think it is an area of education where we are severely lacking to not just our Responders but to their Supervisors as well and it really needs to be corrected.

  5. Having done ride-alongs and going to a lot of crime scenes as a mainstream videographer, I learned a lot of respect for EMT’s and never saw one misbehave enough to remember it.

    But this incident led me to show up at the Keene city council meeting with my camera. Here’s the video of the mayor pretending I’m not there asking questions:

    The problem is when you make an EMT a government worker as this one was. That is something that will somewhat debase any honorable job.

    I appreciate the balanced take on the issue which you are each forwarding on this site.

  6. HIPAA.

    (It’s the little things.) 😉

  7. Steve Whitehead says:

    Thank you Mr. “EMT”. I agree. details matter. I have fixed the offending references. I would have bet you cash money you were wrong. I was convinced that it was The Health Insurance Privacy and Portablility Act. But Alas … Wikipedea knows all … and I stand corrected.

    Thank you for your editorial services.

  8. Steve Whitehead says:

    @Sean It does drive the point home doesn’t it? I’m glad you escaped brau.

    @Dave K, Thanks for trying to give me a heads up on the HIPAA mistake … but I still didn’t catch it.

    @Dave R, I worked in the private service for 15 years. Now I work for my community at a government agency. (I don’t work for the government.) Nobody asked me to check my values at the door when I joined. Nothing about me changed.

    On the contrary, I consider it an honor to wear the uniform of a firefighter and I respect the tradition and heritage of that great profession.


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