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3 tricks to stop smartphone videographers at EMS incidents

Here are three proven strategies to deal with good Samaritans who are more preoccupied with making a viral YouTube or Facebook Live video


By Sean Eddy

People usually associate bystanders and smartphones with police activity. The truth is, we probably see it just as much in EMS if not more. Whether it‘s someone looking for a good YouTube video or a concerned motorist driving by taking a selfie with the wreckage in the background, we rarely find ourselves with a shortage of videographers at EMS incidents.

For the most part, I‘m unaffected by their presence. I just don‘t do stupid things that would get me in trouble and therefore I usually don‘t have anything to worry about. Having said that, it does bother me that some people would rather record a traumatic event than actually do something to help.

Man taking a selfie in front of a motor vehicle collision (Photo Twitter @DailyMirror)
Man taking a selfie in front of a motor vehicle collision (Photo Twitter @DailyMirror)

Where I draw the line is when people pull out their phones with the sole purpose to cause harm to the responders involved. I guess you can say I developed a bad taste in my mouth for these people after I was placed on administrative leave after a cell phone video was edited to make it look like I told the patient that I had been drinking on the job. It wasn‘t until the patient and his family got a hold of the raw footage and submitted it to our management that I was allowed to go back to work. They had caught wind that I had been taken off work for the accusations and confronted the person who recorded the incident. Their actions may very well have saved my job.

Over the years since that incident, I have created a handful of strategies to deal with these good Samaritans who are more preoccupied with videography. Here are my top three strategies:

1. The Freeze Frame
This one only works on calls that aren‘t critical or time sensitive. Once the cell phones come out, we all stand in close proximity to the patient, speaking as quietly as we possibly can and only moving when absolutely necessary. By standing close to the patient, we block the view and help protect the patient's privacy. It also makes for a very boring video and people usually move along as it‘s not worth all the wasted storage space on their iPhone.

2. The Information Collector
I actually learned this trick when dealing with difficult bystanders or responders from other agencies with bad attitudes. It just happens to work beautifully when dealing with smartphone videographers too.

All I have to do is walk up with a notepad and request the bystander‘s name and phone number. People immediately associate this with being in trouble and it creates a sense of anxiety. If they ask why you need the information, just say: “Just in case we need to contact you."

They‘ll spend the rest of the day dwelling on the unknown and running ridiculous scenarios through their mind about why you would need to contact them. Trust me, it works.

3. The Guilt Trip
This one is my absolute favorite. You want to make sure the video never reaches the internet? Make the person filming look and feel like an absolute jerk. For EMS providers, this is as simple as directly asking the person for help. Say something like “Sir, please, we need your help taking care of this person. We need all the hands we can get right now."

Nothing stops a video from publishing better than the fear of the hordes of YouTube drones calling the publisher a heartless jerk. If you‘re a real ninja, you can get another bystander or family member to go on camera asking the person how they could possibly just stand there and record the incident when someone clearly needs their help.

In the end, the only thing that matters is that we do our job to the best of our ability. Don't do anything that you wouldn‘t want to see on the news, and you usually have nothing to worry about.

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