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SportsShooter.com: Member Message Board

Shooting Inside a Burning Buildling
Matthew Cavanah, Student/Intern, Photographer
Columbia | MO | US | Posted: 4:44 PM on 03.13.08
->> I'm currently working on a photo story of a firefighting recruit for a class. The Battalion Chief in charge of training said they might be able to let me gear up and go into their burn building tomorrow when the recruit class goes over thermal layering. He said that other photographers have done this before so there's a good chance of this happening.
Anyone done this before? Any tips, precautions, or signs to watch out for while I'm shooting?
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Walt Middleton, Photographer, Photo Editor
Columbus | OH | USA | Posted: 4:48 PM on 03.13.08
->> Be careful about the heat. You may be geared up but your camera will not be!!!
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John Pavoncello, Photographer
York | PA | USA | Posted: 4:53 PM on 03.13.08
->> prepare to be fogged up! I did this several years ago and the humidity inside once they light the fires will make your lens fog. I was able to get a couple of frames by standing near an open window
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Eric Francis, Photographer
Omaha | NE | United States | Posted: 5:00 PM on 03.13.08
->> John has it right.... stay near an open door and stay low.
Smoke will fill the place quick. Work fast and early in the process.
Make sure you are well clear before they start putting it out.
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Eric Canha, Photographer
Not Listed | MA | United States | Posted: 5:03 PM on 03.13.08
->> I would protect the camera in something like an ewa marine bag. Depending on what is being burned to fuel the fire the smoke can carry all kinds of nasties. The smoke can be either acidic or alkaline in nature or turn in to an acid or alkaline when introduced to the moist air or moister from your breath later when you leave the environment. I was a call firefighter while I was in photo school and for a few years after getting out. I spent several training session in a concrete training bunker where pallets or hay was burned to train us on the use of SCBA or attack procedures. The heat can become VERY intense. Your turnout gear will protect you but I'd be worried about the grease in the lenses holding up.

My two cents. Although I'd be real interested in hearing from the people who have shot wildfires at close range. Those can be some real dicey situations and even more brutal on gear.
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Patrick Fallon, Student/Intern, Photographer
Columbia | MO | USA | Posted: 5:13 PM on 03.13.08
->> Matt,

Did this before [see jesus picture next to my name :) ], talk to me in class.

P
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David Harpe, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 6:00 PM on 03.13.08
->> Two words: Rental Gear
:-)
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Trevor Walker, Photographer
Powell | OH | USA | Posted: 6:47 PM on 03.13.08
->> Check with the guy at Brooks that has been throwing his D3 around. Maybe you can use it.
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Dave Prelosky, Photographer
Lower Burrell | Pa | US | Posted: 7:06 PM on 03.13.08
->> Matt -

Rather than wrapping your gear in anything plastic, ask to borrow an extra Nomex hood and cover the gear in that. If you're gearing up, you'll already have one around your head.

If it hadn't occurred already, I'd forget a flash. It's just something to break off. If for some reason things get exciting, you don't want to worry about gear.

Get the turnout gear on early and walk around in is as long as you can. The boots, helmet and SCBA are heavy, and you'll want to get acclimated to the effect. While you're at it, crawl. Anything above waist high will probably fill with smoke before you get much usable work done, so moving in the gear on your knees will become a job requirement.

If you have an old film camera, consider using that and scanning the result. If you trash a film body and/or old lens, you're not out much.

Confirm your movements with your "chaperone" Two heads can indeed be better than one.

Also, the first time I geared up, my handler forgot to tell me that the SCBA depends on you to inhale. I had a momentary panic attack until I remembered that useful factoid.

Above all, it you start to get uncomfortable, ask to get out. Nobody will think less of you if you don't want to be in a burning room once you find out how intense it can be.
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Chuck Liddy, Photographer
Durham | NC | USA | Posted: 8:52 PM on 03.13.08
->> matthew, haven't done that in a while (I will not divulge how long) BUT if you go in...know where the exit is...I did this years ago and when the sh7t went down a door closed and I got trapped in the room on fire...yeah, that was a cool situation for about one minute until I started frying like a potato at macd's.....tha's when I dove through a window, scraped the living crap out of a 80-200 lens but left with nothing but singed eyebrows and laughs from the fire boys...but hey...ain t our life cool?
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Mike Ullery, Photographer, Photo Editor
Piqua | OH | USA | Posted: 10:56 PM on 03.13.08
->> I don't know your exact situation but a few years ago for a local controled burn, the fire department put plywood over the windows to keep the smoke in for training purposes. One of the windows, they put hinges at the top of the plywood so that several of us (still and TV) could stand outside, shoot quickly, then get out without posing a hazard to ourselves or our gear and without disrupting their training.
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Andrew Carpenean, Photographer
Laramie | WY | USA | Posted: 11:08 PM on 03.13.08
->> Matthew,

Definitely have your own course of action if not given one or if something should go wrong. Its surprising how quickly it will get hot and plastic parts on a camera will melt in no time. Stay low as mentioned earlier and try to keep your camera out of the smoke as it will leave a film coating.
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Jeff Martin, Photographer
wellington | OH | usa | Posted: 11:37 PM on 03.13.08
->> I seem to remember from long ago that visibility in a structure fire is pretty much zip. Shoot quick. Get out quicker.
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 11:52 PM on 03.13.08
->> Drink lots and lots of water. You'll sweat most of it off in the turnouts. I learned the hard way when I almost passed-out after shooting for a couple of hours in turnout gear.

--Mark
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Eric Francis, Photographer
Omaha | NE | United States | Posted: 12:33 AM on 03.14.08
->> "Also, the first time I geared up, my handler forgot to tell me that the SCBA depends on you to inhale. I had a momentary panic attack until I remembered that useful factoid."

you can tell people about this but nothing prepares you for that moment if you've never done it before....... you will have a moment of panic.... and that's ok....... they probably won't laugh at you too much
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Tony Sirgedas, Photographer
Pierce County | WA | USA | Posted: 12:41 AM on 03.14.08
->> Hydrate,hydrate and hydrate some more. The gear we wear weighs about 40 lbs and is like zipping up in a sleeping bag on a humid 90 degree night. Body temps can easily climb to over 101 with minimal effort.
Usually when the fire is going and you get the thermal layers there are zones of heat and smoke that are well defined and visible. Stay very low and you should be out of the smoke. Also stay to the back of the room, you should get some good shots of the firefighters in front of you and hopefully a shot of the gases lighting up with small fingers of fire going across the ceiling before it gets to a flashover condition.
If water is applied properly the smoke/steam should not bank down, but it's a learning environment so it's likely to happen. Be ready at that point to protect the camera somehow or leave the room (but most likely the door will be closed to make the environment conducive to the thermal layering they are looking for).
And once again..... stay really low, that's where your clean, cool air is.
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Rob Dicker, Photographer
Lake Villa | IL | USA | Posted: 8:12 AM on 03.14.08
->> Speaking as a former Firefighter..... , stay low. Once the fire is lit it will take a few moments for the smoke to form a dense layer at the ceiling - provided that the building isn't well ventilated - that is one of the money shots - dense smoke with the recruits crawling towards the seat of the fire.

The last thing you will see or hear are the recruits hitting the fire with water - you will then feel something like you just walked into the worst sauna that you can imagine. The steam conversion of water in a fire is about 600 to 1, so as the water hits the fire everything will turn from dry hot to wet hot. I would suggest using your cheapest, backup body. As they hit the water turn your back and cover your camera to protect it from the steam and overspray.

Maybe even take a break at an opened window or doorway. Let that rush of humidity pass and then get shots of them overhauling or mopping up.

The cool shots can be setting the fire and advancing on it. Sometimes they will look at how it burns in a room before putting water on it, that can look good too.

Have fun, it can be an amazing once in a life chance. There is also an instant bond between you and the Firefighters you go in with – ride the wave.
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James Madelin, Photographer
AKL | Auckland | New Zealand | Posted: 8:50 AM on 03.14.08
->> the heat will damage your camera long before it damages you if you're suited up, so use your school's camera and make sure they know that it will most probably be damaged.

the only person i know who did this used a camera supplied by canon, as they were interested to see how the heat affected it. let's just say the heat affected it and the camera wasn't much good for anything afterwards.

but there were some amazing photos on the card !
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Beth Van Zandt, Photographer
Muscatine | IA | USA | Posted: 9:58 AM on 03.14.08
->> I remember the firefighters gave me a black cloth "fireproof" bag ( I don't know how fire proof it was) but right before they sprayed water on the flames I slipped my camera in the bag. I didn't have any damage to my faithful F4.

"Also, the first time I geared up, my handler forgot to tell me that the SCBA depends on you to inhale. I had a momentary panic attack until I remembered that useful factoid."

"you can tell people about this but nothing prepares you for that moment if you've never done it before....... you will have a moment of panic.... and that's ok....... they probably won't laugh at you too much"

I echo the above comments. Oh, take your helmet off first, then the gloves! Our reporter found out the hard way that the surface of the helmet gets really hot.
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Tom Knier, Photographer
Lancaster | PA | USA | Posted: 12:49 PM on 03.14.08
->> Your camera is gonna stink for a LONG time.
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Matthew Cavanah, Student/Intern, Photographer
Columbia | MO | US | Posted: 2:58 PM on 03.14.08
->> Thanks for all the tips guys. Unfortunately my class schedule prevented me from going out and doing this today, but this is a long term project so I imagine this won't be my only opportunity.
Thanks again!
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Dave Prelosky, Photographer
Lower Burrell | Pa | US | Posted: 3:57 PM on 03.14.08
->> Flambe' Interruptus?
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Jeffrey Boudreau, Photographer
Westminster | MA | USA | Posted: 4:15 PM on 03.14.08
->> The best location to catch the thermal layering is by the door, when you are in it, you might get low enough to shoot below and show how the smoke banks down, but you won't be able to see how the room is actually split in two, the upper half and lower half. It also gives you a quick out to preserve your gear, it will get HOT. The controlled burns are fun. Believe me, I am not only a photographer, but also a Career Firefighter for my full-time fun. Your best best bet is to speak to the Incident Commander and ask him where he feels it would be best for you to station yourself. The best way to do it might be to follow the hoseline in after the inital attack crew goes in. It will give you the opportunity to really see what we do with smoke banking down on the guys.
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Gary Cosby, Jr, Photographer
Decatur | AL | USA | Posted: 1:44 PM on 03.15.08
->> I too am a former firefighter and I did this same type story when our FD began a new state certified training school. This was pure delight for me recalling the "glory days" as it were. I did shots inside the fire tower where the burns are totally controlled and went inside on three different "live burns" where they were training in actual houses that were being burned for training. These are much more realistic with a much higher chance of accident. Listen to the firefighters and stay close to them. Put a filter on your lens and keep your camera in some type of covering. Several good suggestions already. MOST IMPORTANT - do not stand up. The temps at floor level may be a couple hundred degrees and that is a bit uncomfortable. The temps at standing head level will be about 1000 degrees. That is fatal. Stay low and don't stand up until you see the firefighters standing up. SECOND MOST IMPORTANT - do not take off you breathing apparatus no matter how claustrophobic it becomes. That is your lifeline.

Other than that, have a great time. Oh yeah, just leave the strobe in the car. It is totally useless inside a burning structure because the smoke simply reflects the light right back into your face and the reflective stripes on the turnout gear will have a garish glow.

Just my opinion but there are not finer folks than firefighters.
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Thread Title: Shooting Inside a Burning Buildling
Thread Started By: Matthew Cavanah
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