Indiana Firefighter Falls Pray to First Amendment Auditors

A South Bend firefighter who got into an argument with a local First Amendment auditor has been disciplined. Lance Gunderson was given a 5-day suspension without pay, required to attend anger management training, and prohibited from working overtime for 30 days following an incident on June 13, 2021.

Gunderson was at the scene of a medical incident in public when a member of Freedom 2 Film approached while filming. The firefighter initially used his body to screen the cameraman’s view of the patient, but then began arguing with one of them. The man later made a complaint over what occurred. Here’s the local story.

I know it feels like there is never enough time to squeeze in all of the training that firefighters require, but these types of misunderstandings keep happening because First Amendment Auditors are much better trained than our own people about what is and is not legal when it comes to filming in public. Here’s my column from Firehouse Magazine from last December that discusses the problem in the context of fire station visits.

Listen – First Amendment Auditors are on a mission to teach government officials a lesson. They commonly do it in an “in-your-face” manner… until you show them that you know the law. At that point their job is done and they will move on to a softer target. The best advice I can offer is to know the law! In public places – absent some compelling safety or security reason to exclude folks with cameras (more than just concerns about patient confidentially or dignity), let them film. Don’t bite! They have a First Amendment Right to film, and would like nothing more than for you to try to stop them. SO DON’T! My Firehouse column gets into it more detail on the subject. I also have a class I have delivered at Firehouse Expo and FRI on the subject if you need one for your department – but the bottom line is: make this a non-issue in your department. Let’em film.

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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