Firefighter’s Video of Police Shooting Pitbull Creates Backlash – Against Firefighters

We live in a complicated time, where things that happen locally can instantly become sensationalized on a national or even international level. This reality is a function of digital imagery, the Internet and the power of social networking.

Firefighters sometimes do not quite grasp the risks associated with this new complexity – nor the need for fire departments to have policies concerning digital imagery and social networking. However, a recent video taken in St. Lucie County, Florida at an emergency scene is a perfect example of firefighters stumbling unwittingly into a totally avoidable controversy.

Firefighters were on scene of a medical call, and had taken refuge in their apparatus from a vicious pitbull. A police officer attempted to restrain the dog with a Taser but was forced to shoot the animal.

Unfortunately the firefighters made three mistakes: First, one of them filmed the incident on a cellphone camera in violation of department policy. Second, oblivious to how it would later appear to viewers, firefighters could be heard laughing and joking on the recording as the officer shot the dog (which not suprisingly is not sitting very well with many people). Third, the video was shared publically, including the audio, with others including the media sending a very bad image to the public.

While as trained and experienced firefighters we understand the emotions of the members heard on the tape, not everyone who will view the tape can appreciate the stress of being in such a situation, and how humor can break the tension. It is hard to tell how far the story will travel – but once the Genie is out of the bottle……..

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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