Practical Advice for Journalists Covering Fires

Gagik Aghbalyan

If war and conflict acquainted journalists in Armenia with bulletproof vests and helmets, then in the case of a fire, they are not a salvation. Smoke is not a bullet, and fire can often come from behind, unnoticed.

The outbreak of large fires in the Khosrov Forest State Reserve and Byurakan’s forests put forth a new problem for journalists in terms of the use of safety measures.

In these cases, when there’s a large fire in a field or forest, and the area is covered in a big cloud of smoke, working from afar is almost useless. The journalist wants to approach the burning area and record video. In recent days, I’ve undertaken this journalistic task and I’ll share my experience in this article. I’ve also included the advice of employees of Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations. 

  • Take with you a GPS device or a mobile phone with this functionality. If there are several fires in the area and you want to film some of them, there’s the possibility of getting lost. Knowing your coordinates, you can alert the rescuers.
  • Don’t park your vehicle in a place where the fire may reach. If the car is close to the site of the fire, you may not manage to tend simultaneously to both your and the car’s safety.
  • Before getting started, analyze the area on fire, its position. While you are absorbed in your work, don’t forget about a safe exit. While working, frequently observe where you are and check the safe direction by which you can leave the area. Frequently check: has the smoke surrounding you perhaps become denser, or are you close to the fire, or is it surrounding you? If you’re not sure that you’re safe, then get out of the ring of fire.
  • If you find yourself in dense smoke, and it seems that the fire has surrounded you, first of all, don’t panic. Often, feelings are different from reality. If panic wins, leaving the area will become more difficult.
  • If you’re surrounded by burning grass-covered areas and find it difficult to figure out which way is safe, close your nose and mouth, bypass the ring of fire with small leaps, and go to an area that has already burned. The fire won’t return there.
  • It is necessary to choose the right clothing. It is better for clothing to be closed. It’s preferable to be in clothing that will keep your skin at maximum away from contact with high heat.
  • The choice of shoes is very important. High heels or sandals are not at all appropriate. On hot soil, it’s necessary to wear comfortable thick-soled shoes. There may arise the need to leave the area by running. Wrapping a damp cloth around your shoes is not considered excessive. If you don’t have water, you can dampen the cloth with your pee. It will protect your shoes from high heat. Generally, you should take water with you to frequently soak your head and your clothes.
  • Wear a hat and a medical mask. If you don’t have a mask, you can cover your nose and mouth with any piece of clothing or cloth. Otherwise, the smoke and gases may cause poisoning.
  • Camera lenses become covered with soot because of the smoke. Have with you the appropriate cloth to clean them and continue your work. 
  • When filming or photographing a fire there are times when the public tries to beat the journalist. “Put [the fire] out here, put it out here!” You often hear how firefighters talk to each other, and subconsciously you too want to rush to help. It’s difficult to remain purely an observer. If your participation will save, for example, an entire park from burning, from the fire, then by all means help. But if your actions are not very important and there’s no shortage of helping hands, then continue your journalistic work.
  • After isolating the flames, firefighters often go deeper into a burning area. The danger of remaining in the ring of fire is great on the way to recording the events. Don’t forget that you’re not a firefighter, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to follow developments from a little off to the side.

Gagik Aghbalyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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