The San Francisco Fire Department has instituted a company-wide ban on helmet-mounted video cameras, six weeks after a fire truck was caught on film accidentally running over an Asiana plane crash survivor.
Chief Joanne Hayes-White banned video cameras in “any department facility” in 2009 and clarified on Friday that the order does, in fact, include helmet cameras.
Hayes-White said she needed to spell out the rule after Battalion Chief Mark Johnson’s camera filmed a fire truck hitting and killing 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan, a survivor of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, on July 6.
“There comes a time that privacy of the individual is paramount, of greater importance than having a video,” Hayes-White told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think it’s fairly clear. Without someone’s permission videos are not to be taken.”
Video from Johnson’s camera shows Ye lying on the runway at San Francisco International Airport, covered in flame retardant foam, when the truck drives over her body.
“Obviously, we are heartbroken,” Hayes-White told NBC after news of the crash made headlines around the world. “We’re in the business of saving lives…It’s very difficult and devastating news for all of us.”
The San Francisco Police Department is in possession of the tapes and is investigating the aftermath of the crash, in which two other passengers were killed. The San Francisco Chronicle published still images from the footage, sparking conversation about the fire department’s liability for the deaths. The Chronicle reported that Johnson had not been informed that Ye was lying on the runway.
Meanwhile, Hayes-White said Johnson has “been interviewed” about possibly being in violation of the 2009 rule.
Hayes-White claims that video captured at the scene of an emergency would breach the privacy of those involved, particularly the victims. But other experts are questioning her motive, asking why less information would be considered dangerous if the department has nothing to hide.
Battalion Chief Kevin Smith says that Johnson should have been told of Ye’s presence, whether she was alive or not. Smith is president of the Black Firefighters Association – a group which Johnson belongs to.
“The department seems more concerned with exposure and liability than training and improving efficiency,” he said. “Helmet cams are the wave of the future – they can be used to improve communication at incidents between firefighters and commanders….We are public servants, we serve the public – why be secretive?”