In the News: EMS vs Press

The first video is from July and came to my attention though Statter911 (the comment section includes responses from the camera man). The second video came to my attention today through the JEMS Facebook page, and neither paints EMS is a good light.

First, I agree that access to active scenes needs to be controlled, and preferably with some sort of barrier. Similarly, I agree that fire, EMS, and the police have a responsibility to ensure that non-responders are not in dangerous areas and are not interfering with the response. Finally, I agree that EMS has a duty to protect a patient’s privacy, albeit done by the crew taking positive action on their part, not by restricting what people in public can film.

Having said that, requesting the press to leave a scene needs to be done carefully unless they are actively interfering with care or in a truly dangerous location, and force is an option of last resort. From what I can see, neither is the case in either of these cases, and before anyone starts talking about hazmat in the second video, how many other people are walking around in street clothes? Claiming scene safety is rather hard to justify with so many other people wearing no protective equipment in the immediate area.

Similarly, interfering with the scene is dubious, especially with no boundary tape up. Simply being on film is not interference. Someone getting upset and being distracted because someone an appropriate distance away is filming is not being interfered with. If you can’t handle the pressures of a job done in public, and relatively often done in situations of public interest (in contrast to most other careers), emergency services is the wrong set of careers to be involved with.

More importantly, unless it is a matter of object life or death for the camera man, it is simply not worth the fight with someone who is not interfering with the scene. Regardless of the ultimate judgment of either of the above cases, the EMS provider and service loses. It’s a lot like crossing a busy street at an unprotected cross walk without looking both ways. Sure, the cars should stop for a pedestrian in the cross walk, but when the car going 30 mph runs into the pedestrian, the pedestrian loses.  Similarly, while the EMS provider may be “right” in his or her ability to control access to a reasonable area around an incident, the damage done by making the 4, 5, 6, and 11 o’clock news, Statter911, and the JEMS Facebook page simply isn’t worth a physical battle in the vast majority of cases.

However, there are generally plenty of options that should be run through before coming to blows with reporters.

  • Approach the videographer is a professional manner. Make them your ally. Politely state your concerns, request compliance, and offer alternatives. As with dealing with everyone else a, “Hi, I’m concerned about my patient’s privacy, would you be willing to blur the patient’s face prior to broadcasting the video?” works better than “Stop filming!”
  • A “Would you mind filming from over there that’s out of our way?” works better than, “I told you to stop filming.”
  • If worse comes to worse and you have to ‘make’ a videographer leave, then take a lesson from Major League Baseball umpires in how to diffuse and walk someone away.  If you have enough people to send someone over to eject the videographer, then you have enough people to do it in a manner that won’t end up on the 11 o’clock Action News broadcast.
  • While I’m all for a ‘stay and play’ mindset for the vast majority of patients, if worse comes to worse on an EMS scene, move the patient to the ambulance. You have to do it eventually and the ambulance comes with a built-in perimeter.
  • Finally, if you absolutely have no other option but to lay hands on a reporter, engage the police first.

Above all else, when dealing with someone who can tell a story to millions of people, choose your battles wisely. If the story is going to be about the providers, let it be about your medical care, not your fight with the man with the camera.

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About Joe Paczkowski

I am an EMT and a second year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP).
This entry was posted in EMS Operations, In the News and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to In the News: EMS vs Press

  1. FireMedic says:

    Well said. We need to carefully pick our battles.

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