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L.A. Fire Department Briefly Imposes Information Blackout

Information about a fatal fire in Echo Park is halted during the blackout, which appears to be a revival of a policy briefly employed last year.

The Los Angeles Fire Department's Twitter feed was on hold during the blackout. Credit: Twitter
The Los Angeles Fire Department's Twitter feed was on hold during the blackout. Credit: Twitter

By City News Service

The Los Angeles Fire Department briefly re-imposed a blackout Thursday on details of deaths and injuries suffered in fires, halting the flow of information about a fatal blaze at an Echo Park apartment building.

But the blackout was lifted by midday, with LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore saying the department will resume "business as normal" in providing basic patient information.

The blackout appeared to be a revival of a policy briefly employed by the fire department in late March and early April of last year. Last year's blackout drew objections from news organizations and lawyers specializing in media law and first amendment cases, and prompted then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to order the department to resume releasing information about emergency incidents.

During Thursday's fire, which was reported at 12:18 a.m. in the 1000 block of North Bonnie Brae Avenue, some information on casualties was released to reporters by representatives of the Los Angeles Police Department, which sent detectives to the scene.

Two people were killed and three injured in the blaze, which authorities blamed on arson.

At the time, LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey described the damage to the building as "significant" but declined to release details on aspects such as evacuations and injuries, even any involving firefighters, based on what he described as instructions received Wednesday from the City Attorney's Office.

Separately, Humphrey also placed the LAFD Twitter account on "temporary hiatus," according to entries on the LAFD and LAFD Conversation accounts at 1:39 a.m.

"All of our social media is on hiatus until we get clarity and develop a plan of how orders are to be implemented in regard to our social media presence," Humphrey said.

LAFD Battalion Chief Steve Ruda -- recently appointed as the department's new Community Liaison officer to oversee the agency's community and media relations functions -- later told City News Service the department had instituted the policy because of concerns about violating the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a medical privacy law enacted in 1996.

Ruda said he and his staff met recently with a deputy city attorney who told them that under HIPAA, "we were not allowed to divulge any information that would compromise (a patient's) privacy."

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