The San Francisco Fire Department’s decision to ban helmet-mounted cameras after a 16-year-old Asiana crash survivor was run over and killed on the runway by first responders has sparked sharp criticism from safety advocates and others who question the department’s motives.
San Francisco fire chief Joanne Hayes-White issued the edict that explicitly bans video cameras on helmets worn by firefighters responding to emergencies, saying privacy issues were the basis of the decision.
“There comes a time that privacy of the individual is paramount, of greater importance than having a video,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Chief’s decision comes after video footage recorded by Battalion Chief Mark Johnson’s helmet camera shows a fire truck running over Ye Meng Yuan, a Chinese schoolgirl who was ejected from the plane onto the runway in the July 6 runway crash. Ye was covered with a firefighting foam that the fire trucks blasted at the wrecked plane as they raced to the scene. Screen shots of the video were subsequently published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Asiana Flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport as it attempted to abort a landing attempt that was too low and too slow. The airplane clipped the seawall on the runway, causing it to tumble and break apart as it erupted in flames.
Coroners determined that Ye was among the 180 or so passengers who were injured in the crash, but died as a result of crushing injuries she sustained from being run over. Two other teenage girls, also Chinese, were killed in the crash.
Footage from Mr. Johnson’s helmet camera is being studied by the San Francisco Police Department, the San Mateo County Coroner, and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators.
“The department seems more concerned with exposure and liability than training and improving efficiency,” Battalion Chief Kevin Smith told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Helmet cams are the wave of the future – they can be used to improve communication at incidents between firefighters and commanders.”
“Why would anybody not want to know the truth?” the lawyer representing Ye’s family asked the Chronicle.
Chief Hayes-White said that helmet cameras could expose the fire department to more liability by violating privacy laws.
“There’s a lot of concern related to privacy rights and the city taping without a person being aware of it while responding to medical calls,” she told the Chronicle. “A lot of information is sensitive.”
“Departments in general are careful about how information is handled, and for good reason,” Arin Pace, a lieutenant with the Jacksonville, Fla., Fire Department who also runs a company that sells helmet cameras to firefighters, told the Chronicle.
“I think a lot of them would prefer we didn’t have Facebook and YouTube,” he added. “For so long, they were able to feed the media what they wanted to feed them. I think a lot of them view the helmet cam thing as kind of scary.”