April 16, 2014: In what can only be described as a horrific confluence of unfortunate timing and rotten luck, two fire apparatus’ collided enroute to an emergency call sending a multi-ton fire engine through a window and into a restaurant full of diners. More than a dozen patients were transported to the local trauma center and other area hospitals; among the injured were a number of firefighters. (News Story)
Dozens more EMS personnel from neighboring agencies responded to the chaotic scene and made fast work of rescuing victims and sorting out what had happened. The investigation into the specific cause or causes of this terrible accident remains under investigation.
When the dust settles on the investigation, I am sure there will be lessons learned followed by steps taken to prevent similar incidences in the future; that is what we humans do, we learn from tragedy to become better.
However, the aforementioned notwithstanding, there are vital teachings we can take away immediately. Much later down the road, when the excitement and drama have long since faded into stories of “…that thing that happened that time…” the resultant law suits by those in desperate need to find fault – and recompense – will likely just be coming to life. An army of investigators will leave no stone unturned for any trace of evidence. One place they will look will be the cell phone records and statements of everyone on scene.
I have listed five things that EVERY EMS provider should remember and follow in the wake of such critical events:
1.STAY OFF YOUR PHONE!
Who called whom and what did they say?
BAM! You called one or more people to tell them about the incident and have incriminated yourself or someone else, or the person you called just became a witness to something…maybe.
2.STAY OFF YOUR PHONE!
Who texted whom and what did they say?
BAM! You sent one or more text messages about the incident and you have incriminated yourself or someone else, or the person you texted just became a witness to something…maybe
3.STAY OFF YOUR PHONE!
Who photographed what and what happened to that photo?
BAM! You snapped a few dramatic pics of the scene and have have potentially violated confidentiality laws and possibly compromised the investigation by taking and sharing images from the scene.
Do not speak about any aspect of the incident with reporters, civilians, or anyone else who is not directly part of the crew on the scene or, after the fact, a superior officer OF YOUR AGENCY assigned to manage one or more aspects of the incident. Everything you say can be used against you or misconstrued against the truth.
The closer you are to the epicenter of the incident, the more vital – and precious – your right to remain silent and your right to counsel.
With a full understanding of the critical nature of the investigation and an absolute willingness to cooperate with it, do not speak with law enforcement investigators until after you have consulted with an attorney who can quickly assess your criminal liability exposure and advise you accordingly. It’s a good idea to have such an attorney on standby and who can respond to the scene for just such incidents.
Of course, more often than not, the facts will bear out that there is no actual or probable criminal liability for you. However, you do not want to be the one who forfeited the right to silence and lost everything because your description of events was “misinterpreted.”