Into the Fire
My birthday falls on Christmas Eve. Often, it’s not a great time for a birthday, as everyone is busy with other things. This year, however, it was a day to remember.
My wife decided it would be nice if I spent the afternoon and evening with some good people, which often includes firefighters. So, we packed up a few holiday goodies and trekked up to Hollywood and the embedded ourselves with the C-Platoon at Fire Station 76 in the Cahuenga Pass
There was lots of laughter and good discussion and the kitchen was filled with the smells of a holiday dinner being prepared. As we sat down to eat, the long ring came in… “Structure Fire…” Typically, these calls, especially on a holiday, involve food on the stove. Still, we pulled on our gear (and in our case, grabbed our cameras, too), climbed aboard the rig and headed out into the early evening, lights flashing and sirens wailing.
The chatter on the radio soon put us in a more focused and alert stance: “OCD from Engine 82, I have a church fully involved. I have fire through the roof.” Fire is never a good thing unless it’s used for cooking or heat, but when you’re working to capture video for a documentary, as we are, there is something to be said about a good incident. People, for whatever reason (not to be discussed here!) love watching things burn.
And, it is a unique feeling to be rolling down Hollywood Blvd. on Christmas Eve with lights blazing, sirens wailing, and the radio chattering as command staff, OCD and incoming companies discuss the in-progress fire. The footage is breath-taking.
And, as we rolled up to the scene, the fire was remarkable. Flames lept perhaps 100 feet into the air. Palm trees were ablaze and the street was lit as if it were late in the afternoon, not the dark of night.
As the firefighters from 76s took up their assignment, Cameron and I went into action. In this case, she acted as the camera operator, while I directed and acted as a spotter – helping to avoid problems, while also getting into the action.
As we moved up the steps in front of the church, the waves of heat began to roll over us – and we were still 80 feet or more from the building. Embers fell on our camera, our helmets flickered as bits of flaming debris rolled over them, and our lungs began to burn from heated smoke. As we have taken the time to train for such an incident, we were properly prepared and the result was (excuse the self-promotion) remarkable footage. We moved into the fire, and we got the shots. 76s saved several exposures to the east and the media proclaimed it as a “happy Christmas” for the residents, none of whom lost their homes. The church, unfortunately, was a total loss.
Back in 76s quarters several hours later, we enjoyed some cake, some hot coffee, and remarked to one another that it was a birthday, and a Christmas, not to be forgotten.