Does your department have written policies regarding personal cell phone use on incident scenes?

Recently, there has been some issues with members of local fire departments using their personal cell phones on fire and accident scenes in my area. I can understand the need to control this on an active fire scene or when a patient is being extricated from a vehicle involved in an automobile crash. How many of you have pulled your cell phone out of your pocket to snap a few pictures of a scene after the fire was out or while waiting on the tow truck and you were repacking your equipment on your truck?

 

In my area, I know that the local law enforcement officers frown on doing this because they state that any pictures you take can and will be used as evidence in the case of an automobile accident. They have threatened to take possession of any camera used on a scene if it is not the direct property of the fire department that was dispatched or responded.

 

How do you feel about this? Will you think twice before taking pictures for your scrapbook or your next training class?

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Personal cell's are used during fire calls but on a limited basis. By that I mean, certain occasions are okay to use your phone and other occasions are not. For instance, Phones are NEVER used to take pictures of an incident, We have a camera in every truck and pictures are taken with those to document incident details. Once the report is complete and the pictures are on the computer, members are allowed to use SOME pictures for personal use ie. myspace, facebook, etc. I say some because on the rare occasion the FD does take a picture that has the pt. in picture, it is kept confidential. Any picture showing the license plate of the car is kept confidential. Basically any picture that a bystandar could have taken is what we are allowed.

Now... back to the phones lol.... Phones are not allowed in the sense that you are txting your wife/gf/bf telling them who you are about to load into the back of the bus. However if we are on a gas leak waiting for the utility company to show up and its taking more then a few hours (it usually does) then yeah, go ahead and jump in the back of the rig for a second and call your family and say "hey, I'm gona be a little late." It's all about just using your head and having commen sense regarding the issue. So far, it hasn't been a problem.

Phones are also used on rare occasions during the response, there are areas in our district where our radios simply dont work right (yes, thats a scary thought and steps have been taken to correct the issue) so if for whatever reason we cannot reach someone over the radio, we will use a cell phone to call them. Once on scene however; that issue goes away as we can all just talk to each other in person or over a TAC channel.

So... after all that rambling lol to answer your question, no; there are no specific written guidelines for cell phone use as of now.
Dustin,
Thanks for your reply. I feel the same way you do, people should just just a little common sense. It is just sad that there is such a lack of it these days...lol! I have seen and heard of Lieutenants on the scene of a chimney fire running in and out of the home just to send text messages. Those are the ones that shouldn't be allowed to carry their phone with them.

I personally was taking pictures with my phone while waiting on a tow truck to pick up a motorcycle that had gone off the road and jumped a small embankment, and a police officer told me I wasn't allowed to take anymore and that I was lucky he didn't take my phone...There was no patient or by-standers in any of the pictures and the license plate on motorcycles are so small, that from the distance I was taking the pictures, it was not visible.

Anyway, like I said I can understand having a policy regarding the use of cell phones on incident scenes but some times people go over board with how far they take it. Thanks again for your comments. Be careful and stay safe out there. ~Tammy
We actually just had this same issue addressed at our department meeting. I am the one who maintains my department's web page so I have a little insight into the photo issue. I would be very careful at an MVA scene, people do have some expectation of privacy there. Now as far as structure fires go and such, just make sure that the pictures you take are ones that a journalist or civilian could snap from the street, definitely no interior photos. I know it seems like cell phone pictures from some of our firefighters seem to always end up on Facebook and MySpace. The sad part in today's world is that it pretty much all revolves around LIABILITY. I have personally used my cellphone many times while on a run, but like was stated above just to let a friend or family member know that I won't be able to attend to prior plans or I might run a little late and I leave it at that. Like you said though it is just common sense.
Only proving my point further about how I feel about cops lol
No use of private phones allowed, it's inour SOP's. At a lengthy call? Get permission from the OiC and use the phone off teh truck, we have one in each. Photos? Camera in the vehicle.

Those are our rules. But... Like most if I'm away from home on a 3 day Strike Team I have my own phone and camera with me. If they get damaged, it's my loss, the FRS won't replace them.
you were repacking your equipment on your truck

Obviously if you are taking pictures, then you are not doing your job (repacking your truck).

pictures....can and will be used as evidence in the case

In many states, a motor vehicle crash results in citations being issued for infractions of the law. As such, the scene of a collision IS considered a crime scene, and LE does have the obligation to preserve the chain of custody. That includes photos taken from inside the crime scene.

You can and may be subpoenaed by a plaintiff and or their insurance company in a civil proceeding when someone lets them know (someone WILL tell them), you were taking pictures on scene. I certainly hope those pictures are worth the time away from work and family to go to court.

If you want to talk or text on your cell phone, stay home. If you want to take pictures of the scene, become a photographer and take them from outside the crime scene with the rest of the media.

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