GA Video Sparks Outrage and Firefighter Suspension

Unless you have been on a deserted island ….. one without internet access …. you have probably been following the media spectacle surrounding the Spalding County firefighter who took a video of a fatally injured young woman at an accident scene on July 17, 2010, and then disseminated the video to others who in turn released it to an ever widening circle of people.

The relentless news coverage this week has forced the county sheriff's department to "launch an investigation", and the fire department to suspend the member as everyone begins a shameful game of backpeddaling and finger pointing.

The simple truth is the firefighter did something that is totally predictible in this day and age, and the department had no policies nor policy training to address it…. (before the fact that is… one would hope a policy is coming soon). If its predictable its preventable…. sound familiar?

What policies does a fire department need to address this kind of debacle? For a number of reasons every fire department needs a comprehensive digital imagery/photo policy. TODAY! It cannot wait. Believe it or not there is an even more important reason for a digital imaging policy: spoliation… but that's another issue. Second, given the number of firefighters who clearly cannot make good decisions about social media usage, fire departments need a strong policy on social media use that dovetails with the digital imagery policy.

Will those two policies address the entire matter? Yes and no… the policies at least address what the fire department can reasonably and responsibly do. Call it due dilligence. Firefighters may never the less choose to violate the policies. If they do the fire department can at least say we have a policy and we are pursuing disciplinary action against the individuals involved.

Right now, Spalding County is running for cover, reacting to a story that seems to be building steam as it goes along.

Here's some of the news coverage. 


About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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