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Confidentiality requirements for firefighters

While most firefighters are aware of HIPAA laws, members should also be aware of department policies involving private or confidential information

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. And Today’s Tip is for my friends in the fire service. You’ve heard about HIPAA laws, but today, I’m talking about all the other information that we need to protect.

And that’s understandable! Because there are lots of federal, state, and sometimes local laws restricting what information and data can be released.

“But Gordon, I’m just a bottomline, roaddog, firefighter. I don’t possess any of that protected information. That’s for administration to worry about.” Guess again my friend!

Firefighters and chief officers routinely deal with confidential information. Disciplinary decisions may include confidentiality agreements. Information in personnel files and exposure reports is often protected.

On the other hand, many records are subject to disclosure, which means you and your department must comply if you receive a request for the information. Fire incident reports, final fire investigation reports, audiotapes and radio transcripts are all department records your department may be required to release in response to a Freedom of Information request.

What about video from helmet cams? Now this gets a little tricky. If the video is used only for internal use, such as training or an investigation, then it is not likely to become a privacy issue. On the other hand, videos containing images of patients are more likely than not protected by privacy and confidentiality laws.

So, how do you keep track of all this stuff and ensure you’re in full compliance with privacy and confidentiality requirements? Here’s a simple approach. Only let your department’s Public Information Officer release information. This person should be familiar with applicable Freedom of Information laws and privacy laws.

Reduce your risk by knowing your agency’s policies, exercising caution, and asking for help if you’re not sure.

And that’s Todays Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.