Part Five of the Teaching Trauma workshop was about covering disasters. Presenter Matthew Stennard from the San Francisco Chronicle made the point that all disasters –fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami, storm, riot, terrorism and war– are all essentially the same, they are community-wide traumas. He used fire to tell us about how to prepare.
Along with other first-responders reporters are given special attention in law to be allowed “beyond the yellow tape” to serve the community. But doing so comes with risks and it is a mistake that “any rookie reporter can do it.” The risks are just too great, from heat exhaustion (with a fire) to death.
Because of the risks, key to covering disasters is pre-planning and training is necessary. Unfortunately, there are few places to get adequate training. But there ARE some places you can start:
- National Wildland Fire Training
- California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma
- State and local fire departments
In addition to training, reporters should get information on how fires work and prepare a plan for covering fires, including knowing who to contact and how to avoid unnecessary danger. Preparation should include preparing fire kits that include proper tools and protective gear. Be aware of your situtation when covering a fire and have a clue of what can happen. To demonstrate, Stannard showed dramatic footage of a video shot by a photographer who was poorly prepared and protected who got caught up in flames when a slow moving fire dramatically sped up and overcame his position without warning. He had no real escape route planned.
Know standard firefighting orders firefighters use:
- Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.
- Know what your fire is doing at all times.
- Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire.
- Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.
- Post lookouts when there is possible danger.
- Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.
- Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces.
- Give clear instructions and insure they are understood.
- Maintain control of your forces at all times.
- Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.
Change the first word of that last statement to “Report” and the same list applies to proper procedure for reporting fires.