To film or not to film?

It's a question Pitt Meadows Fire Chief Don Jolley wants more people to consider, after blasting bystanders who filmed a family trapped in a car fire on Saturday night and stymied rescue efforts by first responders. 

"We had 10 or 12 vehicles that blocked the access to the scene for emergency responders," he said.

"[Bystanders] were out of their vehicles filming it on their cellphones, while responders were trying to get here and other people were risking their lives for this family. It was disgusting and it was extremely disappointing for me to see this kind of behaviour from the public."

Pitt Meadows car fire

Emergency responders said Good Samaritans ripped open the doors of this car as it was on fire and pulled a family of five to safety Saturday night in Pitt Meadows, B.C. (Cory Correia/CBC News)

Social media expert Jesse Miller says, in this case, he agreed with Jolley that the bystanders lacked sensitivity but said there are instances where recording a public incident can be appropriate.

"People can shoot anything at any time if you're in public spaces," he said. "You're now the first at the scene. You're going to be the source for media outlets ... a disseminator of information."

Some of this capacity, he said, has led to positive outcomes.

Eyewitness video can help investigators, and, in some cases, it has led to more accountability from the police or other authorities who know they can be recorded when they interact with the public, Miller said.

"Everyone has the ability to document something today," he said. "You don't have to pay for film. You don't have to pay for development. You're literally getting the content and sharing it real time."

Ethical considerations

Although more people have the power to broadcast than ever before, Miller says they don't necessarily have the protocol or ethical considerations that traditional media outlets do.

"[Journalists] have a story and think about what the consequences will be of broadcasting that story, whether it will directly impact the brand you represent or your own career," he said. "Other people don't think about it that way."

Listen to Jesse Miller on CBC's The Early Edition:

He says there needs to be more education around when it is appropriate to film and when it is appropriate to share.

"[We need to] give people more tools to think before they post instead of posting and saying 'I'm really sorry,'" he said.

Miller's recommends would-be filmers make sure they're not becoming a problem in the situation and take some time to question whether the footage is appropriate to publish and share — especially if it goes viral.

With files from The Early Edition