Helmet Cams on the Fireground: Part 1

Intro

Flight 214 burning as firefighters scramble to control the fire in the cabin.

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 from the Battalion Chief’s helmet cam.

Recently, there’s been a lot of media attention on the role of helmet cams in the fire service.   The ban on helmet cams by the San Francisco Fire Department following an incident that occurred during the response to the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 has garnered national attention:  Helmet cams: Should they be banned? – CBS News Video.

After being interviewed by a couple different news agencies about the usefulness and prevalence of firefighter helmet cams, it became clear that for such a hot topic, there is very little useful information on the subject.  Most of us know they’re being used, but for what purposes, exactly?  What are the risks?  Are they worth it?  What are the best practices for their use?

With all this attention, now seems like a good time to have a much needed discussion on these cameras.  Over the next few months, helmetcamfirefighter.com will be posting a series of articles that explore the pros and cons of fireground video, along with some best practices for helmet cam use.  We’ll also take a look at how and when not to use your camera, and how to avoid getting yourself or your department into trouble.  We’ll finish off the series in December, with a review of some existing SOPs and a sample SOP for you or your department to consider.

Attitudes

I think when most firefighters think about helmet cams, they first think of the many good uses they can put them to (we’ll get to all those in our next post).   But often, it seems like as you move up the ranks and closer to FD headquarters, the focus turns more towards the negative.  Rather than thinking “How can these tools help us become a better prepared, more effective fire department?” – administrators often wonder “How are these things going to get us in to trouble?

Firefighter advancing on car fire.

Helmet cams benefit investigators, from large-scale incidents like plane crashes, down to your run-of-the-mill car fire.

Some departments have even gone so far as to completely ban the use of helmet cams by their guys.   However, more and more forward thinking departments are coming to see that the benefits far outweigh the risks – and that with just a few tweaks to existing social media policies, they can reduce those risks to almost zero.

Trends

In case you haven’t noticed, most of us are getting fewer fires than our predecessors.  However, our work at the fire scene has gotten more complex and for company officers, our responsibilities have become more numerous.  So, our level of experience is down, training budgets are down, but expectations from admin and the public are up.  How do we deal with this?

Well, technology helps.  Better bunker gear, lights, nozzles, hose, pumps and the emergence of thermal imaging enable us to safely employ more aggressive offensive tactics than ever before – despite being confronted with structures that are less and less hospitable to firefighting efforts.

But good equipmentis not enough.  Training is essential – and watching other pros at work is some of the best training we have at our disposal.  And for the newer guys watching the screw-ups can be even more educational, provided there is some one with sufficient experience on-hand to point them out.

Our next post will pick up right here, with a discussion of The 4 Primary Benefits of Helmet Cams for Your Department.

Arin Pace

President – FDC

5 thoughts on “Helmet Cams on the Fireground: Part 1

  1. I think the Helmet Cam should be a piece of Mandatory equipment. The Pros are its a tool for training, Its a tool that shows what the crew experienced after gaing access and would help with fire investigations. Admin can say but it might be a liability….Why then is there cameras in the back and drivers compartment of most rescue units???? And in the front of all combat units?

    • P.S. I’ve never been a “Anonymous” in my life and won’t start now
      My name is Lt D Gray R58-B JFRD AKA as the “Opionated SOB” lol

  2. I agree with the OP – helmet cams should be a piece of mandatory fire equipment. We can learn a lot from the successes and mistakes of others. Would be huge in connecting the dots when issues arise that can’t be pieced together.

  3. Pingback: 4 Primary Benefits of Helmet Cams for Your Fire Department | The Helmet Cam Firefighter

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