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You respond to “that road” where all the bad accidents seem to happen. You arrive on scene and find a car wrapped around a tree with two 17 year old patients entrapped inside the vehicle. The windshield is starred, the dash is deformed, and it’s going to require extensive extrication to get the patients out of the vehicle. The extrication is complete, the patients are transported, and while you remain on scene you grab your cell phone and take a few pictures of the car.
Is that ok? The answer: It depends on what you do with them…
Both individuals and departments often post pictures of accidents, fires, and technical rescues on social media to “show off” the interesting call that they did and they will undoubtedly receive comments from both professional colleagues interested in the call as well as a thankful community. But, those aren’t the only people who see your pictures.
That 17 year olds friends from high school follow your Facebook page. One of the two patients in that car dies the next morning. The friends and family of your patient are just starting to grieve when they innocently log into Facebook to see something they should never see, the accident scene. A high quality image of the scene where their son, daughter, brother, cousin, or friend died. An image that will add to their trauma, add to their grief, and stay engrained in their memory whenever you bring up the accident.
What if the patient didn’t die, but they login to Facebook only to find pictures of an incident that has already caused them trauma? What if a member of your department had a hard time with this call? One of the common symptoms of PTSD is re-experiencing symptoms, the “flashbacks” we often associate with PTSD. Their memory of that night may not have been able to piece together the accident scene, but now they have a high definition image to start putting the pieces of that traumatic evening back together.
This extends to other calls as well, another common example is the pictures of structure fires. The common answer is that there are no patients involved in these situations. Someone losing their home can still cause a significant amount of trauma and grief. Fire photographers are often running around the scene trying to “showcase” the event.
If you’re in this business to see your picture on Facebook and get thanked for your service, do us all a favor… get out.
Despite what your departments social media policy says or your department posts the pictures themselves, consider your own morals and whether or not you would want these pictures to be posted if you were the victim.
Another thing to remember… the internet is forever and unforgiving.
Whether it was your intention or not, that picture could be the next dark humor meme or it gets shared somewhere where it attracts nothing but tasteless comments. It could also backfire on you and your department and be the source of bashing against your department and their tactics.
Well, is there an acceptable reason to take pictures?
Absolutely. Using incident pictures in training and after action reviews is an invaluable tool. I often use de-identified accident pictures in a kinematics case studies presentation I use with initial and renewal EMT classes. Keeping an album to document the history and activities of your department is also an appropriate way to use incident pictures.
Just be careful that however you use them they don’t end up causing someone unnecessary harm and negative emotions.
What you or your department posts on social media should showcase your department. It should demonstrate the pride you have in what you do and the professionalism that your department has.
So… if you shouldn’t post incident pictures, what should you post?
Find things that make your department look good. Post pictures of a training event where you practiced extrication on a donated car, pictures of a community outreach event teaching CPR. This gives you the opportunity to keep the community engaged with your department without contributing to someone’s grief or traumatic experience.