Playing with hoses, breaking doors, etc.
A few weeks ago I was asked to come down and help my brother and his friend out. They ru one of the biggest firefighter training conferences in the country and it takes place in Portland at the end of February every year. As a friend, I was happy to help out a great cause (they raise money for a great charity). As a brother, I was stoked to get to spend a couple of days with my bro and his friends family (who I love). And as a photographer I was really excited to go get to hang out with firefighters as they trained in many different scenarios all over the region.
I’ve wanted to be a firefighter for years - and have tested to several departments over those years. Being able to spend a couple of days photographing them do their thing was a real treat, and getting good material so that this conference can increase their marketing presence and bring in more people to support their cause makes it a no brainer.
The first day was at the Silverton Fire training center in Silverton Oregon. I drove through pea-soup fog from Portland and get there in time to watch them break out the fake hose-beds and start pulling hoes all over the place. Once they got done practicing with this, the turned on the water and things got really interesting from a photography perspective. Muscling around these hoses is hard work, and watching the instructors educate these firefighters - who are already professionals - and seeing the increase in their abilities was quite the thing to experience. These are people who take their craft very seriously - as they should - and it showed in everything they did.
The weather was crazy all day. It went back and forth from sunny and decently warm to cloudy and REALLY cold. It even snowed on us for about an hour which made for an interesting contrast . About normal for western Oregon at the end of March, I guess.
Another part of the training that was happening that day was forcible entry. Firefighters need to get in to a burning building quickly and via whatever route is easiest for them. This often means breaking open doors and getting in to upper-level windows. They trained on that all day long using steel prop doors and even a burning part of the training tower. It was really cool to watch the coordination they showed and how they all got in synch with each other. Efficiency in destroying things is always fun to watch!
Day two was at a rock quarry south of Portland, and an old abandoned hotel in Vancouver Washington. At the quarry was a training involving technical rescue and extrication. Basically, how to get people out of tricky situations using ropes and really powerful hydraulic cutting tools. Ever seen video of a firefighter tearing apart a car on a highway? This was that stuff. It was amazing to watch. They were all very welcoming to me and let me get in close to the action to help get good marketing material for the conference.
For the second half of the day they wanted me to get some coverage of one of their main trainings, the building entry and search training at the abandoned Red Lion hotel. This one was awesome to photograph as it involved live “victims”, tons of smoke, saws, breaking stuff, lots of noise, and finally some sunshine. Again, the firefighters at the site were all very cool and let me get in close, sometimes even insisting that I get right in the middle of the action. This seemed to be the theme - everyone was so polite and so awesome in making sure that I had what i needed ot be successful despite the fact that I was - let’s face it - in their way a lot of the time.
My focus for this whole thing was to get good marketing material for next year’s conference. The importance of good, sharp, high-quality photographs can’t be understated in today’s online and high-quality-print marketing ecosystem. The Guys at the Firemanship Conference knew I could provide that and I was honored that they asked me to participate. I’m really stoked to see what they end up doing with these photos, but I’m also just very happy to have been around people who I admire and help them raise money for a great cause.
The main thing I took away form this was the camaraderie. People flew in from all over the country - I saw a couple of guys from Boca Raton - to attend this. None of the usual swagger that comes from many firefighters was present, they were all very committed to paying attention, learning form each other, and improving their abilities and tradecraft. The coolest part was it was men AND women, working shoulder to shoulder with no issue and mutual respect. It was a very cool couple of days.