Thursday, March 18, 2010

Feel The Heat

If you thought all I photographed was nature, landscapes, and wildlife, you do not know me very well. Being the adrenalin junkie that I am, I am always up for something exciting and a little risky. Welcome to some live action, fully involved, in progress fire photography. Since I am an Edwardsville Police Officer, I work closely with our fire department. They are nice enough to loan me some turnout gear and let me get right in the middle of the action to photograph it.
Some of these photos are from live fire training exercises, and some are from real structure fires. I cannot wear breathing apparatus or gloves while inside because it would be to difficult to work my camera. Usually the smoke and heat force me out pretty quick, but that is ok as the temperatures get so hot it would start melting the plastic parts of my camera equipment. Being a police officer I have gone into many burning buildings even before the fire fighters arrived on scene to take a look for victims. This is usually only as long as you can hold your breath as the smoke will overwhelm you very quickly. Hanging around inside and capturing the fire as it continues to spread and get hotter and hotter is a whole different experience.

The first few times I was inside a live training fire I did not wear any gear. I usually could grab just a couple shots before the heat and smoke drove me out. On a training exercise there was a flashover while I was shooting from behind the main entry team. This explosion of gases in the air melted some of the hair on my head and my eyebrows. It was so intense that a firefighter received steam burns from the sweat on his arm inside his turnout gear due to the flash over fire getting so hot from that incident. So it was decided I probably at least should be wearing some gear so I didn't catch myself totally on fire one of these times.  

These photos are just a few of the many I have taken over the past few years. Although there is some danger involved, the risk is minimized with all the safety plans and backup teams in place. The fire department is very well trained and prepared for any problems that arise during these incidents. Not to say that there isn't some risk. Just a look at the photos will give you some idea of the intensity of the situation.

How hot is it? Take a look at the ceiling fan, it is melting. The fire deparment will get an old abandon house that is going to be torn down. They get permission to use it for training. They will set fires using bales of hay and wood pallets and fire fighters will make entry and put out the fire. They can get many live fire training drills this way before the house is finally allowed to burn down. Nothing better than live fire training to really lean how to deal with it. 
Our city is fortunate to have a highly trained professional fire department. I have worked with them and helped train their arson investigators in crime scene photography and evidence collection. It is an honor to work with them, and I salute them for the dangerous job they preform. 
This last photo is one of my favorites. It is titled "The Doorway To Hell" The firefighter in the photo is Lt. Rodney Hall of the Edwardsville Fire Dept. This was a live fire training exercise and was to be the last one of the day. The back of this old farm house had a room across the back. The room was ignited and allowed to really get rolling. When he kneeled down and opened the door, the rush of air caused the fire to just explode and come rolling out into the room. I was actually outside shooting through an open window and the heat was so intense I could only manage a couple shots before the heat forced me to turn away. As soon as they hit it with water the smoke is so thick you cannot see anything. You are totally blind if you are inside. That gets a little scarey and disorienting. With the right equipment and manpower, it is amazing how fast they can knock the fire down and get it under control. 

I will eventually post more action fire photos as I have a large amount of them in my portfolio..


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