After airliner crash, S.F. chief bans helmet cams

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco Fire Department ban on video cameras now explicitly includes helmet-mounted devices that film emergency scenes, according to Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

The edict comes after images taken in the aftermath of the July 6 Asiana Airlines crash at the San Francisco airport led to questions about first responders’ actions, which resulted in a survivor being run over by a fire truck.

Hayes-White told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/16zguEN ) she is concerned about the privacy of victims and firefighters.

“There comes a time that privacy of the individual is paramount, of greater importance than having a video,” she said.

The footage recorded by Battalion Chief Mark Johnson’s helmet camera shows a Fire Department truck running over 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan while she was lying on the tarmac covered with fire-retardant foam.

Two other passengers died and 180 people were injured when the Boeing 777 clipped a seawall while approaching the runway and caught fire.

Images from the video were published in the San Francisco Chronicle, which reported that the footage indicates that Johnson had not been told that Ye was on the ground.

San Francisco police, the San Mateo County coroner and the National Transportation Safety Board are reviewing the footage.

Hayes-White said her 2009 ban on video cameras in facilities was meant to include emergency scenes, but critics inside and outside of the department question the timing.

“The department seems more concerned with exposure and liability than training and improving efficiency,” Battalion Chief Kevin Smith told the newspaper. “Helmet cams are the wave of the future — they can be used to improve communication at incidents between firefighters and commanders.”

The attorney for Ye’s family also criticized the decision.

“Why would anybody not want to know the truth?” asked Anthony Tarricone.

Hayes-White said she’s concerned that the fire department could be liable for violating privacy laws. Houston and Baltimore also ban the use of helmet cameras.

“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 said. “A lot of information is sensitive.”

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