Russian Firefighters’ Selfie Sparks Outrage

Two Russian firefighters are facing disciplinary action after they posed for a “selfie” at the scene of a fire that killed 17 people on March 11, 2015.

Ilya Bykov, 30, and Rostislav Krylov, 28, posed for the photo at the scene of fire in Kazan in the central Russian Republic of Tatarstan. The pair are seen smiling as the building, a shopping center, burns in the background. The photo was posted on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook.


The photo sparked public outrage on VKintakte, including a posting by one viewer, Svetlana Kapustina, that said “It makes me sick to think that while those poor people were burning to death these two were treating it as some sort of joke. Shame on them.” Another viewer, Yegor Tokaryev posted: “Christ! People are dying in there and these men are smiling and taking photos!! They are there to save lives.”

The case goes to show that becoming a cybercasualty is not just an American phenomenon. Clearly the forces at work are more closely tied to human nature than national boundaries.

It is understandable that firefighters are proud of what they do, and it is predictable that many will want others to know of their exploits. The problem is that when social media is used in this manner – victims, the families of victims, and the public see the firefighters as trying to glorify their role in someone else’s tragedy.

The resulting outrage is just as understandable… and predictable. Human nature…

Whether the firefighters will find themselves banished to Siberia remains unclear. Surprisingly the Russian constitution actually has a provision for freedom of speech (see below), but it does not enjoy the same broad interpretation as America’s First Amendment (BTW… not even the First Amendment would be much help to these guys anyway). Russia is not well known for its tolerance of free speech in general, let alone protecting speech by public employees.

Here is more on the story.

Here is the pertinent article in the Constitution of the Russian Federation:

Chapter 2 – Article 29

  1. Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech.
  2. The propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred and strife shall not be allowed. The propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy shall be banned.
  3. No one may be forced to express his views and convictions or to reject them.
  4. Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way. The list of data comprising state secrets shall be determined by a federal law.
  5. The freedom of mass communication shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be banned.

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.

Check Also

More COVID Headlines in Fire Law News: From Butt Wipes to Litigation

Another week, another new COVID related headline. The Los Angeles City Fire Department is investigating allegations that a firefighter dropped his pants and wiped his butt with a notice related to his non-compliance with the city’s vaccine requirements.

FDNY Firefighters Sue Over COVID Vaccine Suspensions

Fifty firefighters with FDNY who were placed on leave without pay on November 1, 2021 because they had not been vaccinated for COVID19, have filed suit in US District Court alleging a violation of their due process rights. The suit was filed yesterday naming the city and Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro as defendants.