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Home > Topics > Fire-EMS
April 17, 2014
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The Legal Guardian
by David Givot

How not to incriminate yourself at breaking news scenes

An army of investigators will leave no stone unturned for a trace of evidence, so make sure you’re not in the spotlight

By David Givot

In what can only be described as a horrific confluence of unfortunate timing and rotten luck, two fire engines collided enroute to an emergency call, sending a multi-ton fire truck through a window and into a restaurant full of diners.

Fifteen patients were transported to the local trauma center and other area hospitals; among the injured were six firefighters.

Dozens more EMS personnel from neighboring agencies responded to the chaotic scene and made fast work of rescuing victims and sorting out what had happened. The specific cause of this terrible accident remains under investigation.

When the dust settles, I am sure there will be lessons learned followed by steps taken to prevent similar incidences. We must learn from tragedy to become better.

However, there are vital teachings we can take away immediately.

Later down the road the excitement and drama will fade and lawsuits by those in desperate need to find fault — and recompense — will likely just be coming to life. An army of investigators will leave no stone unturned for any trace of evidence, so make sure you’re not in the spotlight.

Here are three things that every EMS provider should remember and follow in the wake of such critical events:

1. Stay off your phone

Who called whom and what did they say? You have incriminated yourself or someone else. The person you called easily just became a witness too. The same holds true for text messaging.

2. Don’t take pictures

Don’t take out your phone to snap photos, either. It may be a spectacular shot, but taking pictures potentially violates confidentiality laws, and taking or sharing images from the scene and possibly compromises the investigation. 

3. Remain silent

Do not speak about any aspect of the incident with reporters, civilians, or anyone else who is not directly part of the crew on the scene. After the fact, do not speak to anyone who is not a superior officer of your agency assigned to manage one or more aspects of the incident. Everything you say can be used against you or misconstrued against the truth.

The closer you are to the epicenter of the incident, the more vital — and precious — your right to remain silent and your right to counsel.

With a full understanding of the critical nature of the investigation, and an absolute willingness to cooperate with it, do not speak with law enforcement investigators until after you have consulted with an attorney who can quickly assess your criminal liability exposure and advise you accordingly. It’s a good idea to have such an attorney on standby who can respond to the scene for just such incidents.

Of course, more often than not, the facts will bear out that there is no actual or probable criminal liability for you.

However, you do not want to be the one who forfeited the right to silence and lost everything because your description of events was "misinterpreted." 

About the author

David Givot, Esq., graduated from the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care (formerly DFH) in June 1989 and spent most of the next decade working as a Paramedic responding to 911 in Glendale, CA, with the (then BLS only) fire department. By the end of 1998, he was traveling around the country working with distressed EMS agencies teaching improved field provider performance through better communication and leadership practices. David then moved into the position of director of operations for the largest ambulance provider in the Maryland. Now, back in Los Angeles, he has earned his law degree and is a practicing Defense Attorney still looking to the future of EMS. In addition to defending EMS Providers, both on the job and off, he has created TheLegalGuardian.com as a vital step toward improving the state of EMS through information and education designed to protect EMS professionals - and agencies - nationwide. David can be contacted via e-mail at david.givot@ems1.com.
Comments
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EMS1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Aaron Reineking Aaron Reineking Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:26:30 AM A question for the author, in situations involving potential criminal liability, could Garrity v. New Jersey apply to those of us working for a municipal EMS service, or is that reserved strictly for law enforcement?

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