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Filmed on scene: 3 important reminders for paramedics

Ubiquitous smartphones and easy sharing on social networks put paramedics and the reporters covering them under increasing scrutiny


This controversial photo, without explanation or context, led to backlash and confrontation (FOX 2 News screen capture)

By Justin Schorr

In the last 10 years cameras have gotten smaller, smarter and easier for any Tom, Dick or Harriet to produce at the scene of an emergency.

Managers and Chiefs of a certain age are quick to remind their younger staff of this fact, often while fumbling with their own small, easy to carry devices.

Then along comes an example from the Wayne-Westland Fire Authority in Michigan. Rescuers responded to a collision into a tree and a photo was snapped by a bystander. Happens all the time these days as folks are eager to be the next viral video sensation. And if you are in Fire or EMS, and especially law enforcement, you must assume you are being recorded at all times.

FOX 2 WJBK in Detroit ran a story (subsequently restracted) from one of these photos with the headline “Paramedics Pose for Photo at Crash Scene.” Insert lazy modern media/reporting comment here.

The image shows a rescuer wearing a high-visibility vest standing next to a damaged truck. That‘s it. No back story, no explanation.

Then the story gets good. Backlash was immediate on the station‘s Facebook page, website and around the fire and EMS blogosphere. Then the person who took the photo chimed in on Twitter.

She stated that the rescuers were doing everything they could to help the occupant of the truck, who was injured and did not pose for the photo. What soon followed was a retraction and apology from the news station and life moved on for all parties involved. Or, at least, that‘s what SHOULD have happened.

Instead, the reporter issued a half hearted statement about respecting first responders and the job we do, but never approached the whole “being entirely wrong” thing.

The blogosphere erupted and moderately ill-tempered emails were being sent into the TV station manager, especially after one of the station‘s reporters mentioned on Twitter that a well respected EMS writer should “#STFU.” And their bio lists them as “Emmy Winning.” I‘m forgetting my place, they‘re professionals and we‘re still tradesmen.

The importance of this chain of events needs to be clarified for three reasons:

1. You are being filmed.
Even right now reading this on your phone in the front seat of the ambulance you are likely being filmed. It is impossible to explain a single frame in a 20 minute rescue, so just focus on your task at hand.

2. A sharing media policy is useless when you can‘t control who is doing the sharing.
Even the most elaborate, expert policy to make sure your personnel don‘t cause trouble can‘t save you from the snap shot and the lazy reporter. The important thing is knowing how to react or, in this case, not react to the controversy. The Wayne-Westland Fire Authority is staying out of the fray. They have not addressed the issue, therefore, keeping themselves completely out of any mud or muck that flies back and forth. The emphasis remains on the news station and the incomplete reporting. Well played.

3.The internet is watching you.
Fox 2 WJBK is learning that lesson right now, a little too late unfortunately. Instead of running a story about the positive impact EMS has in that community, or focusing on horrendous salary, schedules and working conditions of many EMS professionals in their own community, they are dealing with a backlash and possibly brand-harming coverage as a result of their non response. I‘d link to the original story, but they pulled it. Countless others archived it first, proving once again that the internet never forgets when you‘re stupid.

Had WJBK issued a correction to the story and apologized I doubt any of us would have heard what happened, but instead the desire to get viewers and create outrage caused a freeze frame of a positive event to be seen as some kind of “Medics Gone Wild.”

This is a letter in your file WJBK. How about sending your reporter out on a few ride alongs to truly learn an appreciation for “first responders” since you can‘t figure out what to call the paramedics. Run that story and maybe, just maybe, we‘ll take you seriously during your evening regurgitation of what I read online 12 hours ago.

For more on this story, and a play-by-play timeline of the event, check out the recap on Statter911.

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