South Australian Country Fire Service Promotions Unit

Raising awareness of the roles, training and activities of CFS Volunteers state-wide


Behaviour guidelines during the taking of photos at CFS Incidents / Activities

This document has been produced by the CFS Promotions Unit, to give CFS members some guidelines regarding their behaviour while taking of photographs at incidents and activities, to enable suitable photographs to be taken, while ensuring a safe environment for the photographer, emergency crews and the public.

Taking photographs when NOT part of the responding crew

If you attend an incident or activity, not as part of the crew, and respond in private transport, the Promotions Unit recommends the following:

  • If you attend in your own vehicle, ensure you park it in a safe location, out of the way of responding crews. This includes not parking your vehicle in front of gateways, water points, egress and access points.

  • Before approaching the scene, consider the clothing you are wearing. Is it appropriate for the incident or activity you are intending to photograph? A small burnoff, travelling very slowly, can turn into a running fire which starts crowning 10 minutes after an unpredicted wind change.

A slow moving fire, in scrub (left) and the same fire, 10 minutes later, across the valley (right)

  • Being caught in this type of incident in the wrong clothing can be dangerous. The Promotions Unit recommends if you intend to photograph a rural fire, you should be wearing full PPE, including helmet & gloves and P2 mask, regardless of the size of the fire. The clothing you wear at other incidents will depend on the type of incident and how close you are going to get to the incident (which will generally depend on the permission of the OIC, and the type of incident - see below).
  • Upon arrival, locate the OIC, and advise who you are, and that you would like to take some photographs of the scene, and seek their permission to be at the scene and take photographs. If permission is denied, you should leave.
  • If you are wearing appropriate PPE suitable for the situation, and have the permission of the OIC, you can move towards the scene, as long as you do not get in the way, do not compromise the safety of yourself or others at the incident, or compromise the integrity of the scene. Check with the OIC on any areas that you can't go.
  • If you are not wearing suitable PPE for the incident (or none at all), you should remain on the outer of the incident.
  • Ensure you don't get in the way of other emergency service personnel at the scene. Trying to get in close to take a photo, and getting in the way is unsafe, and a good way to get yourself either removed from the scene, gain a bad reputation, and permission being denied to take photos at future incidents & activities.
  • Obey all reasonable directions of the OIC / crews at the incident / activity.
  • Ensure you do not develop "tunnel vision" - taking photos of the action, without being aware of what is developing around you - eg a fire suddenly comes up a hill & catches you unaware, or appliances are trying to drive through the area you are standing in, and you are in the way!

Be aware of what is happening around you

  • Legally, you are allowed to take photographs of people in a public place, or clearly visible from a public place. If a person / people ask you not to take their photograph, you should respect their wishes and stop. If emergency service personnel request you to move, or to stop taking photographs, you should do so. If you make a nusiance of yourself, by ignoring reasonable requests of crews at an incident, you may find yourself removed from the scene, or refused permission to take photographs next time. While legally, the OIC doesn't have to give you permission to take photographs at an incident, members of any emergency services at an incident can request that you be removed from the scene. Police can legally remove you from the scene (forcibly if required).

Taking photos, when you are not allowed anywhere near an incident, is rather difficult!

  • Being a member of the CFS does not automatically entitle you to get close the scene of an incident, cross road blocks or pass through barriers.
  • If the Promotions Unit becomes aware that CFS members (and others) are taking photographs, and in so doing, behaving inappropriately, the Promotions Unit may cease to accept photographs from that person / people.

Photographing children

There are particular conditions that relate to taking photos of children.

  • If you attend an activity at a School, Kindergarten or Child Care Centre, generally the images cannot be publicly displayed, unless the parents have given their permission. The staff at Schools, Kindergartens and Child Care Centres can advise you of which children can, or cannot be photographed. If you go to a School, Kindergarten or Child Care Centre as part of a school visit, prior to taking any photographs, check with the relevant school staff if you can take photographs. In practice, staff often grant permission for photographs to be taken, but will carefully vet any of the photos, prior to them being used in a public forum (such as a brigade website)

Particular conditions apply when taking phtos of children at CFS activities

Taking photographs when part of the responding crew

Many of the times you take photographs will be when you are responded to an incident (or activity), as part of the crew. The following guidelines are recommended by the Promotions Unit when intending to take photographs while part of a crew.

  • Have the permission of your Captain (or crew leader) to take photographs (this is best sorted out some time PRIOR to attending call outs.)

Remember, your primary role is part of the crew, not the photographer, and hence it is important to undertake your duties as part of the crew, before taking photographs.

Photographs should only be taken when safe to do so, ensuring that the taking of photographs does not compromise your role within the crew.

  • Do not wander too far away from your appliance to take photos - eg if the appliance has to go in a hurry, you need to be able to return to the appliance in a short time, without delaying its deployment. Further to that, do not wander away from your appliance for the purpose of taking photos, to the point where you cannot communicate with the appliance - eg if they need to warn you of a hazard, or need to redeploy to another area in a hurry.

When taking photos, as part of the crew, make sure you stay in contact with your crew

In all situations, ensure you keep an awareness of what is going on around you - where CFS appliances and other emergency service vehicles are, where they are going to go and when, so you don't get in the way. Be very conscious of what the incident is doing - particularly for bushfires - so you know where it is, where it is going, and be ready to take appropriate action, should the fire take off.

Taking appropriate photos

Whenever you take photographs, you need to consider the sorts of images you are taking. Situations will vary, and hence it is difficult to make strict rules about what you should or shouldn't photograph, however, as a general rule of thumb, ask yourself the following question :''If it was a member of my family involved in this incident, how would I feel about people taking photographs?"

  • Photographing people injured or killed in a crash or any other incident is not appropriate, however, photographing crews working around an injured person, without showing that person, may be appropriate (but not always).
  • Photographing a vehicle involved in a fatal crash, particularly if a casualty is still in / around the vehicle may not be appropiate. However, photographing a CFS member undertaking traffic control at the scene, without showing the crashed car, may be appropriate.
  • Taking photographs inside a person's home or business during / after an incident, which specifically identifies an individual or family is not appropriate. Being inside a private house / business, owners / residents CAN refuse to allow you to take photographs inside their property.

Photographs should be taken in accordance with the Promotions Unit Guide to Taking Photographs

For members of the CFS, ensure that photographs are taken and used in accordance with the CFS SOP 6.09 Photographic and Video Recording of Incidents and SOP 6.10 Social Media and Websites - which specifically states that photos can be taken for the purpose of using them on the CFS Promotions Unit site.   CFS SOP 2.02 Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment must also be adhered to.

Photographs by the CFS Promotions Unit and Graeme Mellor