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Sex, lies and videotapes in the fire service

If it can be recorded, it probably will; if it can be shared, it probably will; and if it involves firefighters, it certainly will

To say that someone is always watching what we do and usually watching through the screen of a video recorder should not be breaking news to anyone in the emergency response field. This has been a fact of life for several years and we can expect it to remain one for the foreseeable future.

Yet, three recent stories of firefighters being caught on camera have drawn some interesting reactions.

The first involves a fire chief who was followed for months by an undercover media camera crew. The outlet reports that they caught the chief drinking, smoking what appeared to be pot and playing golf while using his department-issued vehicle.

While a few readers blamed the media, most understood that the chief’s behavior, if what was portrayed is true, is unacceptable. The bottom line is that if you are in a fire department vehicle, you are on duty.

Then came the story of the 19-year veteran who was busted making videos of himself having sex with a woman at the fire station; not surprisingly those videos surfaced. There were more than a few who dismissed this as “business as usual” in fire stations.

I understand, and assume most others do as well, the allure of sex in places other than the bedroom and that firefighters are to a certain degree inherent risk takers and thrill seekers. Yet, to tarnish the department’s reputation, compromise other firefighters’ health and ruin your own career and possibly retirement is not even close to being worth the thrill.

The last story of firefighters caught on video involved a crew from Glendale, Ariz. who were physically attacked by one, then two subjects. They possibly could have fled, but they stood their ground and subdued the attackers.

The problem came from some of the saucy language they used during the melee. Speaking in a local television interview, Chief Mark Burdick said even he was put off by the language.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had several dealings with Chief Burdick, all have been positive. He’s a good guy; I like him, and that may cloud my take on this situation.

Unlike the previous stories, I see this as a nonstarter. Coming under attack will heighten anyone’s emotional state. And while we ideally want firefighters and medics to remain composed in these situations, there are plenty of examples of police using similar language in situations that they are specifically trained to handle.

The other argument I’ll throw into the mix is that salty language isn’t as salty as it once was. Most grade-school children can flip on the television and get a full dose of profanity — whether it’s “bleeped” out or not makes no difference, everyone knows what’s being said. Like it or not, profanity has become an accepted way of speaking in our culture.

Chief Burdick took the prudent approach to this situation, and one I may have taken had I been in his shoes. Yet, I’m hoping the firefighters come away from this without disciplinary action against them.

In the world we live in, the smart firefighters are surprised when someone is not recording our every action rather than be surprised when they are. The days of liquid lunches, 18-hole afternoons and sexcapades in the firehouse may not be things of the past, but they will be the things of video — behave accordingly.

Rick Markley is the former editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s of fine arts. He has logged more than 15 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at