Baltimore City Fire Union says cameras meant to cut down on wrecks are being used to punish crews

BALTIMORE - When an emergency call comes in, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.  But some members of the Baltimore City Fire Department feel like big brother is tracking them.

"They're in every truck, every medic unit, every engine, every Battalion Chief car and every Shift Commander," said Baltimore City Fire Union Local 734  president Rick Hoffman.

He's talking about video cameras. Back in 2014 the department installed dual-facing DriveCams in nearly every vehicle in the fleet .  In a November 2015 memo , the program was billed as an effort to save money by reducing crashes, and improve the safety of crews.           

But the fire union said that's not the case.

"Our folks feel like they were lied to, and quite honestly, when you get down to it, they were,” said Hoffman.  “They were told this is non-punitive, we want to make you safer drivers."

The cameras automatically start recording whenever an unusual amount of force happens, like a sudden stop, a hard turn, a pothole or a wreck. The units record and save 8 seconds leading up to the trigger and 4 seconds after. Yet instead of proving who’s at fault in crashes, Hoffman said the clips are being used to enforce a stringent city policy that emergency vehicles must come to a full stop at intersections.

"I've got firefighters that are being hit with it, I’ve got medic EMS people that are being hit with it,” he said.  “They're losing days, they're getting suspended, they're facing demotion and they could face being fired."

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Three violations and you're out of work for five days. Five violations and you could be bumped a rank. Harsh penalties when crews say they're being safe.

"This system's crazy and it needs to be worked out,” Hoffman said. "I would like the department to work with us more on if our people have cleared the intersection and there was no danger of an accident, let it go. We gotta start looking at the whole picture here, and not just I didn't stop at a red light."

ABC2 News reached out to the Baltimore Fire Department to get more details about how the cameras are being used, and get reaction to the union's complaint. Here is the statement:

This has been our longstanding policy used for members and public safety concerns; we began with red lights, stop signs and seatbelts. The drive cam program aims to save money long-term by decreasing the total costs of departmental vehicle accidents. Total costs are calculated through vehicle repairs costs, workers’ compensation, third party payouts, and cost recovery though subrogation. To that end, it has been successful.

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