Firefighter helmet cameras called into question in Austin

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by TONY PLOHETSKI / KVUE News

khou.com

Posted on September 24, 2013 at 6:50 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Some Austin firefighters are increasingly attaching tiny, high-digital cameras to their helmets, joining a national trend in recording their work.

Firefighters say the cameras allow them to review their actions, providing beneficial training to help keep them safe.

"I've seen little things I do that I can correct and make me a better firefighter," said Austin firefighter Andrzej Micyk, who was given a less-than-$200 camera in February for his birthday.

But critics cite privacy concerns -- particularly because the vast majority of firefighter calls are for first-responder medical emergencies.

"What is this, reality TV?" said Deborah Peel, founder and chairwoman of Patient Privacy Rights, an Austin-based national nonprofit. "This is nothing the citizens know about or have approved of. If we have firefighters or first responders rushing to scenes with cameras when people are injured ... and don't even know these things are being used, that is an outrage. I think the public is going to be offended."

Some cites, including Houston and San Antonio, have banned firefighters from wearing helmet cameras. San Marcos also doesn't allow firefighters to wear them.

In July, the San Francisco fire chief temporarily banned helmet cameras after a firefighter recorded sensitive images after the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that showed a 16-year-old passenger being run over by a fire engine.

Austin fire officials say they have begun drafting a policy that they hope to have finished in a couple of months.

"There is a level of liability and a level of exposure to the department and the citizens we are serving," said Assistant Fire Chief Harry Evans, who is the department's chief of staff. "We need to be sensitive to that, and we need to craft a policy that encompasses all of those things."
 

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