You all know how in the movies structural fires have these nice flames and no smoke at all, right? Well, the truth is quite far from it – at least in the beginning. A few weeks ago our station had a live fire exercise in a house that would have otherwise been torn down.
For us to stay current with our training, we have to have at least one exercise per year in full gear and in hot conditions. That is, we have to train with live fire either in a simulator or by setting fire to a structure and putting it out repeatedly. Alas, most years we have to satisfy ourselves with simulators since finding suitable structures that are going to be torn down is difficult.
As with real fires, gearing up properly is extremely important and we check each others gear before going into the smoky and hot building. In most cases, at least if the structure can still be saved, the rooms are filled with smoke and heat. Moving around in an unfamiliar structure where visibility is minimal is done by crawling and touching everything.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get really big fires going between the pairs that went in so in most cases I didn’t get any suitable pictures since without any flames it was extremely dark.
However, once the ceiling caved in over one of the rooms, we got a movie-like fire going on that I could photograph a bit. By this time being in the building was already quite hazardous since the house had been burning for some time and shooting time was very limited.
Of course, once we can’t practice inside, we complete the teardown by burning the house in a controlled fashion while protecting the surrounding areas.
All in all, all of us got to go in at least once – I think most managed to go in twice. I went in once without a camera and then six or seven times with the camera. As you can imagine, I was feeling quite toasty after the last time. Shooting while completely covered in turnout gear and the breathing mask is challenging – especially when shooting with an older camera without live view. I used our backup, the 30D for this shoot since I’ll never risk our primary inside a burning building.