Photographers On-Scene: Ready for Your Close-up?

Also posted at Star of Life Law.

Allegedly1 a Firefighter/EMT with the Keene (N.H) Fire Department was being videotaped during a call. The resulting videotape has been published on YouTube and shows the Firefighter/EMT striking the video camera held by one photographer and confiscating a camera-equipped cell phone from another bystander.

Here is the video (H/T STATter911):

Here is an article describing the events surrounding the scene.2 The notable portion of the article is this:

Aubern Goodwin was able to stay with Kurt for a short while when he was placed into a holding area. She reportedly witnessed Mr. Rivera violently attack the handcuffed Mr. Hoffman. A call was put out to the Keene Fire/EMS for an ambulance as the attack injured Kurt’s neck. The EMS and sheriffs arrived and started ordering cameras turned off and areas cleared of people, all while spouting irrelevant HIPAA regulations in a blatant attempt to assert authority. One of the EMS workers, Captain Ronald Leslie, even stole a camera, directly snatching it out of a videographer’s hand.

Here is a letter written by the person who had their cell phone confiscated directed toward the Firefighter/EMT.

In this day and age cameras are everywhere. If you haven’t yet been photographed or filmed, you will be.

Let’s discuss some important topics so that you won’t be immortalized on YouTube and have the Fire and EMS blogs replaying your 15-minutes of infamy.

1. Smile: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

People can photograph and film you performing your firefighting and/or EMS duties. The general rule is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs.3 Streets, sidewalks, and public parks are examples of places that are traditionally considered public.

Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises but have no right to prohibit others from photographing their property from other locations.4

There are some exceptions though. You can’t be photographed or filmed where it is specifically prohibited by law. By law, I mean there must be a specific local ordinance or state law that prohibits photography in that specific location. Private ‘No Photography’ signs not backed by a local ordinance or state law likely are worthless.

The take away: you can legally be photographed or filmed without your consent when you are in a public place where you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. 5

2. Film, Memory Cards, Video Tape: It’s Not Yours To Take

You cannot confiscate cameras, film, memory cards or video tape. That’s theft.

You cannot demand film, memory cards or video tape be erased. That’s theft, too.

You cannot physically threaten a photographer. That’s assault.

You cannot prevent a photographer from leaving the scene unless they comply with your unlawful confiscation or erasure demands. That’s false imprisonment or kidnapping.

Got it? Good.

3. Camera Grabbing: Relax, Don’t Do It

Battery is both a criminal act and a civil tort. At common law, simple battery is an unlawful application of force to the person of another resulting in either bodily injury or an offensive touching. The common-law elements serve as a basic template; but individual jurisdictions may alter them, and they may vary slightly from state to state.

Importantly here, battery need not require body-to-body contact. Touching an object “intimately connected” to a person (such as an object he or she is holding) can also be battery.6

Grabbing, striking or hitting a camera, camera-phone, or video camera held by a photographer is likely battery. The photographer can file criminal battery charges against you and the photographer can sue you civilly for battery.

It’s simple. Don’t touch the camera.

4. Three’s a Crowd: Properly Making a Safe Work Space

If you find yourself crowded by a gaggle of paparazzi or even an overzealous single photographer, they may be interfering with your ability to do your job. In this case there is a right way and a wrong way to create a proper and safe working environment. As we discussed above, grabbing cameras or physically pushing photographers is the wrong way.

Utilize the available law enforcement on scene or get them on scene to assist you. All jurisdictions have disorderly conduct laws that the LEO’s can enforce. Disorderly conduct laws prohibit people from engaging in behavior that causes inconvenience, annoyance or alarm through disruptive behavior. Interfering with a firefighter or paramedic in the performance of their duties is likely to constitute extreme behavior rising to disorderly conduct.

Additionally, most jurisdictions have specific laws against interfering with police, fire or EMS workers in the performance of their official duties.

However, as an EMT or Paramedic your job is patient care, not law enforcement. Let the experts handle it. Get law enforcement on scene to assist you and allow them to handle the situation while you focus on the patient.

5. Silence: It’s Not Just for Mimes

The initial mistake I see from the video above is that the FF/EMT acknowledged and responded to the verbal taunts from the photographer. The photographer appears to be purposefully taunting and berating in order to elicit a response to capture on film. In this case he succeeded.

There appears to be an increasing trend of citizen journalists and shock journalists that seek to provoke confrontation to record. By responding verbally to these photographers they are only encouraged and emboldened.

You do not have to talk to anyone but your patient or someone directly related to the patient so you can properly assess your patient.

Focus on the patient. Ignore the photographers.


With the increasing prevelance of cameras, camera phones, and small video cameras, it is only a matter of time before you encounter being photographed or filmed on scene. You need to understand the basics of photographer’s rights and more importantly you need to know what not to do.

By following the 5 simple tips outlined above you can avoid an embarrassment on YouTube, save yourself the trouble of a criminal or civil complaint, and serve your patient by focusing on them rather than the circus around you.

  1. The word ‘allegedly’ is used here as a hedge, as I have not been able to locate a reliable source that details the actual sequence of events and actions. The posted video and statements from the links provided herein is all that I have presently located. []
  2. It is unclear from reading this if the author was shooting the video in the above clip, was the person who had his camera confiscated, or was an uninvolved witness. []
  3. The Photographer’s Right, Bert P. Krages, 2009. []
  4. Id. []
  5. You have a reasonable expectation of privacy only in places like dressing rooms, restrooms, inside your home, etc. In these instances, the photograph or film is not illegal, rather the invasion of privacy is illegal. In most jurisdictions invasion of privacy is a civil claim, not a criminal act. []
  6. See Fisher v Carrousel Motor Hotel, Inc., 424 S.W.2d 627 (1967 []


Adam Thompson, EMT-P said...

I think that sometimes our type A, in control of the scene, personality might invoke this type of thing. We are not free to treat people however we want. Good post.

Ambulance Driver said...

I agree with Adam. A better response would have been to smile and politely say, "I'm not at liberty to talk about my patients."

Also, once inside the back of that rig, isn't there an expectation of privacy?

Star of Life Law said...

AD, I would say that in the back of the rig there is an expectation of privacy, and that the taking of photographs or video through the rear windows on the box likely invades that privacy.