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News report: TV station says Miami-Dade Fire Rescue ‘did virtually nothing to discipline’ captain who went on tirade against videographer. Calls it a ‘cover up’.


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Previous coverage here & here 

Analysis from FireLawBlog.com’s Curt Varone

We first showed the video below involving Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain Greg Smart on March 22, the day after the incident occurred. Since that time a lot of people have been wondering about the outcome of the department’s investigation into Captain Smart’s aggressive behavior toward videographer Taylor Hardy. According to WFOR-TV in Miami, Captain Smart received his disciplinary action a month ago but nobody bothered to let Hardy or the public know the outcome. WFOR-TV reports “the department did virtually nothing to Smart.”

What I find disturbing about all of this is not so much the issue of what discipline there was for Captain Smart. Instead it’s a lack of a clear message from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. In looking at all of the coverage then and now, no one has acknowledged that it is okay for the public to take pictures from a public place and it’s not okay for firefighters to interfere with that First Amendment right. And if that isn’t the case, shouldn’t the leadership at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue explain their interpretation of the? This lack of clarity with such a high profile video probably sends the wrong message to the public and to other firefighters.

The video report above describes in detail what the TV station discovered. Here are some excerpts:

… a close review of the report, written by Chief P.O. Albury, reveals efforts to cover up Smart’s actions.

Hardy filed a complaint that Smart was trying to prevent him from recording at the scene. Albury said that charge was “not sustained” because “at no time did Capt Smart state that the complainant couldn’t film.”

In other words, since Smart did not actually say the words “you can not videotape here” he was found innocent of the charge.

Albury’s report neglects the fact that there was another firefighter standing with Smart who explicitly told Hardy he wasn’t allowed to videotape. It also neglects that Smart told Hardy: “You are leaving right now, turn around and walk away. You are leaving right now.” Nor does it note that Smart attempted to block Hardy’s video with his chest.

Albury did sustain a complaint that Smart’s behavior was “unprofessional.” Albury wrote: “Capt Smart responded poorly when the bystander refused to back out of the safety perimeter.”

But Albury excused the behavior noting that Smart was under a great deal of stress. “I have coached Capt Smart reference this event,” Albury wrote. “He was under a great deal of stress on this call and acted in an aggressive nature when challenged by the bystander. I feel that he and I have come to an understanding as to the expected behavior when dealing with the public. Capt Smart agrees that he overreacted and caused embarrassment not only to himself but to the department. I feel that in the future he will have a different perspective as to how we need to act regardless of the severity of the call.”

Nowhere in the investigation by Albury does it address Smart’s use of the radio to demand police units respond on an emergency basis.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Legeros

    Dave,

    Here’s a version of a question that I have also asked on Curt’s blog.

    One piece of this story is the issue of scene safety. The photographer was either inside or outside of a safe perimeter. It’s entirely binary. Yes or no.

    Back when this news was news, readers (and blogger) expressed varying opinions. Some said the guy with the camera was too close. Others said he’s just fine, based on the other people and objects between the camera and the helicopter.

    Are there standards that apply here? Are there objective measurements that can clearly determine “yes, this was a safety issue” or “this was something other than a safety issue?”

    Or does objectivity fly out the window—and perhaps necessarily so?—when there’s an emergency, and when people are stressed or under duress, and when time is critical, etc. But wait, that’s negated by training and experience, right?

    (Why the hell does the question even matter, you ask? Isn’t saving the life or protecting the property always more important that the ability of the public to view/monitor their agents in action? Perhaps. But someday somewhere someone will “sue for access” and this very question will probably be asked and/or answered in a court of law.)

    • CHAOS

      If a Captain in a major metropolitan FD is too stressed from handling a medical call to sanely deal with the rest of civilization, should he be a Captain in a major metropolitan FD??
      I guess the citizens (and his crew) should be happy it wasn’t a more involved call. I find it very interesting that the Chief finds it excuseable that one of his Captains is that stressed over a medical call.
      Good thing this wasn’t the classic “fire everywhere with nuns & babies hanging out the windows, with a bad hydrant” call. Imagine his stressful reaction to that.

    • Elwoood

      If it was safe enough for traffic to continue through the space between the guy and the helo, then it must be a safe distance for him.

      Obviously they have no set parameters.

      If it was safe enough for Capt. Smart (irony?) to wilfully abandon his patient (bloody gloves and all) then it must have been safe enough for the guy shooting the video.

    • RJ in florida

      every photographer in florida should go to Miami and start shooting video in this guys first due area for about a year and post every video on youtube

  • trthomp

    If the law is the same there as it is in most places, no expectation of privacy when in the public eye then yes the Capt. is wrong. Did he need to request the police for an emergency, No. Should the Capt. have been charged with battery, yes. He touched the cameraman and also allegedly touched him with bloody gloves. Should more have been done in the way of discipline, yes. Does the Capt. and the fire department owe the cameraman an apology, yes.

  • slackjawedyokel

    Im going to get bashed for this, but unfortunately more and more it seems that public job = no accountability.

  • Jim

    On the subject of the safety perimeter, it isn’t strictly binary. Without moving you can be both in and out depending on time and events. When we run medevac we establish two perimeters, one for when rotors are turning and one when they aren’t. Some of our LZs are next to roads. When the helicopter is inbound and landing we shut off all traffic. Once landed, traffic is allowed to flow. When they are ready to spool up and take off we shut down traffic again.

    As for the rest of the whole mess, ouch. We don’t need that kind of black eye. It reflects on all of us.

  • JustSayin”

    Truth be told…
    This may have been one of his better days
    as the Chief’s mentoring begins to have a positive effect…

  • On The Job

    They were attempting to provide and secure some patient confidentiality. Who knows the status of the patient inside the ambulance? They had every right to tell that guy not to video the scene on the off chance a blanket blows off the patient and they are now visible to the world to see. How would the man recording this video felt if it was his wife, mother, or daughter inside the ambulance severely burned and random citizens were using their cameras to video because “it’s their constitutional right”. Do you want your loved one being on youtube naked and exposed? ‘But it’s our constitutional right’! Didn’t think so. Show some respect.

    • dave statter

      You are correct Capt. Smart and you have the right of free speech to say what you want and that may include telling people not to shoot.But according to the laws of our land you don’t have the authority. You really need to read up on that Constitution thing. Your personal feelings and mine aren’t part of that equation and are likely not part of the general orders of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department or yours. If they are, good luck in defending that one against a law suit. Your job is not to be the editor in chief. Just giving you a reality check so you don’t wind up as the next one shown on video. Check out the link to Curt Varone’s FireLawBlog for the view of a lawyer who is a firefighter. BTW, Captain Smart was out of control. You shouldn’t try to defend that.

    • CHAOS

      If they were really trying to “provide and secure” patient confidentially, did they first check for recording devices in all the vehicles they let drive by much closer to the patient? Or, did they have a magic blanket securer doohickey that only works when the public is much closer than this cameraman was??
      Also, apparently “show some respect” doesn’t cover touching someone with bloody gloves, eh??

    • BH

      Actually, they had zero right to tell him anything. No one has an expectation of privacy in public. It’s called “the law”. You should try reviewing it before you spout off about it. The safety zone argument is blown out of the water by the cars driving through it uncontested.

      If Captain Smart was that worried about patient privacy, he had every right to use a sheet or blanket to block the cameraman’s view- which he can’t do while assaulting the cameraman with biohazard-contaminated gloves.

  • IslaFire

    I once took a video camera from a bystander who was filming a dead 8 YOF being extricated from a vehicle. I asked him to stop and he didn’t. This was probably 6 years ago. I gave the camera to the trooper on scene. He told me that the guy could have me charged with theft even though he (the trooper) agreed with what I did. Since then I pay no attention to the cameras. Just know that you are always on tape and act accordingly. If somebody is in an unsafe position or interfering with the operations, that’s another story. We cannot be HIPAA cops. Besides, HIPAA only applies to caregivers. Not nosy bystanders.

    • Legeros

      When deceased children are being extricated, and they’re being filmed or photographed by other responders, does that make them “nosy” like the bystanders?

      Curiosity is a pretty darned pervasive human trait. And it bumps and battles against compassion time after time.

      In my twenty-plus years around emergency services, I’ve seen countless scrapbooks and “secret photos” snapped of wrecks and victims and deceased persons. The same sorts of shots that have appeared on Facebook, and seen swift outrage and condemnation.

      Is this issue–the public seeing/watching/filming–really about privacy, in these instances? Seems more about inclusion/exclusion. If you’re “in the club,” take a look, take a picture. If you’re “not in the club,” get out of here, go away, get behind the tape.

  • IslaFire

    Dave, I think you read the article wrong. Chief Varone stated that it was the Captain who possibly violated the citizens First Amendment rights.

    That being said, so we all know, public employees do not have the same First Amendment rights as private-sector employees or private citizens. This applies to both on the job and off the job utterances.

    After taking a class at the recent IAFF Affiliate Leadership Training Summit, I penned an informational article for publication in our Local’s newsletter. Before I was able to save it on Google Drive, the hard drive crashed. I’m now reconstructing the article. Suffice it to say, public employees have lost their jobs based on what would be considered protected speech if it were uttered by a private citizen.

    • dave statter

      You have a First Amendment right to say what you want but that does not guarantee you employment. I think it would be stupid to tell someone they can’t shoot in those situations, based on our laws. But you do have the right to say it. Though dressed in uniform and acting in an official capacity will likely be legally problematic for you.

    • mark

      Employees of corporations have lost their jobs because of what they have said.

      You appear to misunderstand the 1st Amendment. The gov’t can not limit free speech–to an extent–but private companies can limit speech or expression all they want.

      Actually, rereading your second paragraph, you don’t understand the issue at hand. Read the paragraph above. It has nothing to do with being a public or private employee, it has to do with guaranteed freedoms from the Constitution.

      I really thought we had this issue pretty much settled, at least on this blog. Apparently not. On the Job doesn’t get it either.

  • ED Roche

    LEADERSHIP LESSON: Be firm but fair and treat all with dignity, respect, and with a level of importance that will surprise them.

  • Steve in NJ

    Brunacini said, “Always be nice; treat everyone with respect, kindness, patience and consideration,” and if Captain Smart had done that he probably could have gotten the photographer to put down the camera while they took the patient out of the ambulance and probably NOT ended up on News 4. But, I guess the M-D FR response is more along the lines of, “Well, Captain Smart said he was sorry and promised to quit doing steroids.” Oh well.

    • who dat

      With a little tact I would guess that Captain Smart could have gotten him to turn the camera off for a few minutes. Something to the effect of “Sir, we are about to take the patient from the ambulance into the helicopter. Do you mind not videotaping the exchange for patient privacy reasons?” I think that would have gone a long way. But the anger and overall disrespect by the Captain was uncalled for. Maybe there is more to the story, but just be nice to others.

  • Alan Rose

    Also not addressed: That the Captain totally disregarded his job duties. And was a complete ass.

  • IslaFire

    I still disagree with you Dave. The US Supreme Court has decided several cases involving free speech and public employees. You are correct in that anybody can say what they want but that doesn’t mean it is protected speech. Even when speaking in an official capacity, see Garcetti v. Ceballos, a landmark case in public employee free speech rights. There was also a case where a prison guard witnessed drugs being smuggled into a facility by a superior. She advised her supervisor via official memo and was terminated. One would think that this was “a matter of public concern.” Courts ruled otherwise. Sounds crazy I know but it’s true. Don’t expect things to change much real soon either under the Roberts Court.

    The point that Chief Varone made was that the Captain was acting as a government official and therefore the government (Dade County) was possibly infringing upon the videographer’s First Amendment rights.

    • dave statter

      I agree with Curt. That’s not my point. I was being more sarcastic than providing a legal opinion. The captain has a right to act in that manner and open his mouth if he so desires. There are just consequences. Again, not a legal opinion. I think the captain was dead wrong and have since the start.

      • RJ in florida

        I think a lot of you are missing the point. In context the captain violated the guys rights. he exposed him to blood and under florida law physically battered him

        It does not matter what the captain and the other guy was “trying” to do…THE DID NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO WHAT THEY DID@! and that makes all of us look bad

        for MDFD to cover this up is bullshit. Both should have gotten a four shift rip and mandatory counceling because they are fire rescue not video control

        what they did was a crime and both got off lucky that the FD backed them and covered it up

        • Fireman Bob

          There are disciplinary procedures that have to be followed to protect firefighters rights. Whether you like it or not, you can’t just send a guy home for a few shifts. It doesn’t work that way. Progressive discipline is in place to coorect behavior. According to policy, an informal counseling is the first step which is documented followed by a formal counseling then a disciplinary action report. These disciplinary policies are put in place to prevent abuse of power and to keep track of an employees conduct record in the event termination or suspension is sugested.

  • ThatGuy

    As many have mentioned, this Captain has no grounds to say and do what he did. They had no established parameter set, they let cars drive through on that street aswell. This Captain is a spaz, we all have them on our departments, this just happens to be the wrong place and time…… He needs some remedial training perhaps

  • NC Fire Capt.

    Capt Smart was wrong by all stretches of the imigination. While i dont know about patient abdonment,because i dont know how many other where doing patient care. After having been doing cpr on a patient and the sheet getting blowed off her chest exsposing her breast and the family blaming us for exposing her to the public do i have a skewed outlook yes. We appoligized to the family and left it with no explination. It just happened. If there was an effort to protect the patient from video tapping then set up a barrier,tarps and trucks work good, not so much around landing zones. dont make demands of something that you cant enforce. if it means that much to you kindly ask them not to record the actuall removal, if they stop great if they dont okay too. As far as hippa, the expectation of privacy goes with the patient not their family, and if you dont tell the media anything that idenfies the patient or the severity of their injury/ illness no problem. Deceased people have no expectation of privacy, you still dont have to tell anything. protect the scene with bariers and establish a defined cold zone by whatever means possible. most reporterd respect that line if it is easily noticable and identifable.

  • NightMare1

    There are photos of dead and mangled people all over the Internet. All of our concepts of privacy and propriety might be quaint notions nowadays.

  • My Mom

    Why hasn’t the cameraman filed criminal charges against the Captain for assault? The proof is in the video. I also wonder why a suit hasn’t been filed ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    • Fireman Bob

      What proof? You are only seeing what the camera guy wants you to see. The camera man has a flashing emergency light attached to the inside of his windshield. You can see it at the end of the video, which he conveniently blurs out. He could have easily been arrested for impersonating a PO officer. That camera guy is not a real journalist btw, he’s a trouble maker with a blog who uses a police radio scanner and emergency lights to rush to emergency scenes so that he can write about it on his blog.

      • dave statter

        Wrong. Read the appeals court ruling from Boston. Everyone is a journalist today http://statter911.com/2011/08/30/the-first-amendment-lives-u-s-court-of-appeals-in-boston-says-there-is-nothing-illegal-about-shooting-video-of-police-doing-their-jobs/

        If he has a light bar deal with that. Make all the excuses you want and bury your head in the sand about the laws of our land, but you aren’t convincing me and most of the firefighters who have replied that Captain Smart did a good job here. He was unprofessional, acted like an ass and let his own personal standards of what’s right and wrong guide him rather than the rules and regulations of his department and the laws we live under.

        • Fireman Bob

          Well guess what boss? Nothing happened to him. Get over it. All organizations have disciplinary policies and procedures in place which have to be adhered to. The fact that you disagree with what he did is great, but Capt. Smart won’t be suspended because people on a blog say he should be. He was counseled and told not to do it again. If he does, then progressive discipline will be follwed. I’m not defending his attitude towards the photographer in any way, but unless you were there at the scene of the call they had responded to prior to arriving at the landing zone, you’re opinions and suggestions of how Captain Smart should be disciplined, are one sided.

          • dave statter

            If you are talking to me Fireman Bob, I have no opinion on Captain Smart’s discipline. To my knowledge I have not really commented on that other than to say that’s Miami Dade FR’s problem and if they don’t deal with it well, they will likely deal with it again.

            What I have commented on is the failure by the department’s leadership to publicly address the issues brought up by this video. A clear statement of the department’s policy on the public taking pictures (both internally and externally) and possibly a public apology (or at least a private one) were called for in this case. Failing to do so will likely haunt them down the road and create more of these confrontations.

            Statter

      • BH

        Bob- having lights in his car doesn’t change the fact that he was assaulted with a biohazardous substance.

        Whether or not the lights are legal or not, I’m not sure- I don’t know Florida law (by way of example they’re not illegal to possess, just illegal to use for nefarious purposes in my state). It’s DEFINITELY not illegal at all to go to emergency scenes, or blog about it- regardless of what you think about it.

  • Puzzled

    I said before, Capt. Smart wasn’t. He was way out of line. That being re-interated, my department would have at least issued a formal apology, but beyond that, any personnel disclipinary matters would not be made public. Hypothetically speaking, the Capt would have been formally counseled, and other stipulations such as anger management. But listening to the news report, it sounds like the media wants a death penality.

    • dave statter

      I think an apology to the videographer and a clear statement from MDFR leadership on the department’s policies were very important in this case. Not doing that was shortsighted and stupid. As for the captain, that’s their problem to deal with and if they don’t deal with properly they will likely deal with it again.

    • Fireman Bob

      Right, and because of the disciplinary procedure that’s in place (for a reason), the media and all those who want his head will just have to walk away and pout because nothing besides what you mentioned is going to happen, that is, unless he does something like this again.

  • Fireman Bob

    Exactly, you don’t know about the patient bc you nor anyone else that’s commented on this blog was there to know the whole truth. The patient wasn’t abandoned. Their were 4 guys (1 Rescue and 3 Engine) in the back treating the patient. That left Capt. Smart, the Engine driver and the Rescue Driver to secure the LZ. While the Captain’s aggressiveness was inappropriate, he does have every right under the law to secure a landing zone based on whta he/she deems necessary. People in cars arent a concern bc they are protected from flying debris by their vehicles. If they choose to drive by and have their car damaged then that’s on them. Bystanders however are a different story. Legitimate news photogs know how to respect boundaries. This guy Hardy is an ambulance chaser who has a blog. He is far from being a legitmate journalist. And for those of you who didnt watch Hardy’s video in its entirety, at the end of the video he pixlates the screen in an attempt to hide the fact that he has an emergency light bar flashing attached to the inside of his vehicles windshield which constitutes a violation of law.Clearly impersonating a LEO or Fire official. He should be glad that he bailed before the cops got there.

    • dave statter

      Fireman Bob,

      You need read up on some court opinions. A federal appeals court in a similar case says there is no real difference between what you call “legitimate news photogs” and the public with a camera. Under the First Amendment they are all legit. So scratch that from your reasoning.

      If he was securing a landing zone he should have come up like a professional and done that. They come with the intention, shown very clearly on the video, of censoring picture taking, based not on policy, law or regulation, but on the personal opinion of the firefighters and possibly helicopter crew on the scene. Stop making excuses for such an inexcusable display, and hold the captain to a standard of professionalism that clearly was not shown here.

      If, in fact, Hardy has what you said he has, it can be dealt with too, in a professional manner. It has nothing to do with his right to take pictures.

      My suggestion to everyone is that you need to modify your thoughts a bit based on the reality of the world we live in now with cameras everywhere and on almost every call you run. If you start having fits like the captain did over seeing a camera, it might be time to take a new look at your own career choice because you will be facing this situation more and more and not a lot less.

      Statter

      • Fireman Bob

        I am wll aware that anyone with a recording device constitutes a journalist in this day and age. I agreed that the Captains attitude was uncalled for. The Captain never actually told Hardly not to film, that was the medic. And yes, take a close look at minute 9:40 til then end of the video you will notice the emergency light that Hardly illegally uses to rush to scenes. I’m not defending the Captains attitude but I can assure you that this guy Hardy is an instigator that is out to fuel his blog.

        • dave statter

          I’m out to fuel my blog too. So what did he do to instigate? He sat there and took video of a landing zone. That’s something I’ve done both on the job as a reporter and off for more than 30 years. Again, because he has a light bar doesn’t mean he loses his First Amendment rights. Call the police and let them deal with the light bar. I am glad you agree the captain screwed up. He’s the one who needs to act like the pro here, not Hardy. Hopefully it will never be the job of fire and EMS to judge and police the behavior of the public.

  • CHAOS

    I’ll have to review my perception of “securing an LZ” if it includes allowing motorists to drive through it “at their own risk”. Interesting definition of “secure”.

    • Fireman Bob

      Driving on a roadway next to an LZ is not necessary allowed. If securing an LZ means that the road must be closed than thats what has to be done. In this situation, there were only 3 firefighters securing the LZ during a busy time of day and all of the police officers were still at the scene of the stabbing that they had just responded to. In a hasty LZ securing you do what you can to protect bystanders before you stop traffic you get people out of harms way.

      • dave statter

        Again Fireman Bob, this wasn’t about securing a landing zone. This was about a citizen questioning a bs order by a firefighter to shut down his camera and the captain’s ego couldn’t handle it.

        Yes, we know the fire department has the right to secure scenes for safety. No one is arguing they don’t. But don’t excuse an abuse of power that started this by citing laws that really aren’t the issue here.

        I can assure you that if this had happened to me as a reporter (and it has), I would have held my ground and we would have continued rolling video on the out of control captain. I can also assure that if criminal charges were filed against me (which I seriously doubt would have happened), one look at the video and they would have been dropped.

        If the captain was so right and the videographer so wrong, why didn’t the cops show up? Why wasn’t the guy arrested?

        You need to find a better case of the public or press doing wrong to make your arguments. It’s just not there for you in this one. Again, all this video shows is a clear abuse of power by an out of control fire captain.

      • CHAOS

        We’ve all dealt with low manpower situations, I just haven’t seen the “hopscotch” method of securing a scene or LZ before where you pass (& ignore) one hazard to address a much further one.
        As far as the discipline program, we have progressive discipline, too, but, our system (union approved) breaks down categories of possible offenses so that things like uniform violations and public idiocy & assault aren’t treated in the manner.
        And, in this day and age, many FDs have regular chasers & buffs. Most of us don’t bother with trying to “handle” them with our limited manpower when they’ve already handled themselves by staying well out of the way, like this guy. In hindsight, would you say that just ignoring this guy standing well out of the way would have resulted in more negative publicity for the FD than what Capt. Not So Smart has achieved with his behavior?

  • Fireman Bob

    Im not defending the Capt.’s actions. You can Monday morning quarterback this issue all day. Fact remains, it’s old news and at the end of the day policy trumps public opinion.