There are actually official photographers for some departments. Anyone can take pictures from outside. Not sure how it could be illegal. We have a few sites with plenty of pictures and videos. There's also individual company websites linked on the below. Not to mention hundreds of YouTube videos. If I'm working at a downtown company, I see people taking pictures and video of my daily. I've randomly found pictures of myself on Flickr.
I know we're getting off Harlan's subject a bit, but I want everyone to take a look at Glen Ellman's work at fortworthfire.net. Glen is the department's official photographer.
Ben summed it up: The big issue is the difference between legality and department policy. We're allowed to take photos as long as they don't detract from our work, which means they're usually after the action is over with. We are strictly forbidden to distribute or publish them anywhere, especially social media. They cannot contain identifiable addresses or faces...and nothing in poor taste such as bodies. It is legal to photograph anything that is in plain view from a public place. Look up "public domain" in legal precedent or in a "law of the press" textbook. if you peak over a wood six foot fence with your camera you're breaking the law. If you are taking pictures on the fire ground and the public is being kept a block away, you're breaking the law. Those are the types of images you wouldn't dare share with anyone.
Ice cream everyone!
Our department has a policy about the use of helmet cameras during incidents. We are allowed to use them, but they cannot delay our work, and we cannot publish them to youtube, facebook, or anything else. They are used for debriefings, and I will edit the videos for training purposes, we can get permission for use on the department website. As for pictures, we have a department photographer, who is a retired active member of the department, his photos have been used in investigations as well as in magazines and on our website.