Covering a Fire

There was a pretty big fire in Lebanon last Thursday morning. It actually happened before we were even off deadline, which was kind of annoying. Not that a fire should start and end while I’m off deadline, but it certainly made things a bit difficult.

No one was injured in the fire. It was about 9 miles from the office and our photographer Roxanne went first. It wasn’t very close to any main roads, but, thankfully, it wasn’t set far from the road.

I’ll leave the rest of the details for the story Fire ravages Lebanon home.

I had to finish a weather round-up before I left, which was tough. I got that done and met Roxanne at the scene. She had already been there for about 40 minutes, so she decided to leave. I immediately walked up and started taking notes.

I wrote down every single department that responded right away. It was pretty easy to do because it felt like there was a quarter-mile of fire/rescue trucks lining the street. The trucks had closed the road, so I was free to mull around for a bit making sure I didn’t miss any departments that responded.

The Lebanon Volunteer Fire Department is a great group of men and women. They already had the scene under control when I arrived. They let me walk around and get pretty close to their operations. That helps because that allows me to get the finer details of what’s going on with the fire.

The first thing I do is find the chief and the fire marshal. Those are the people you need to find. Anyone other then those two men or women, at any fire, are not who you want to quote. If other firefighters do talk to you, that’s great, but, either way, you have to confirm it with the chief and/or fire marshal.

If you don’t know either the fire marshal or the chief, introduce yourself. Let them know that you are on the scene and you are looking to talk. Even if you don’t have any questions yet, make sure you do this. They are in the middle of operations, but you have to remind them that all you are doing is looking for information and as much of it as possible. Nine times out of 10 they will have no problem with this, but it all depends on the size and damage of the fire.

Some key questions that you should ask, when you do get the chance to talk to someone, include:

    • How much water did you throw on the fire?
    • How many departments responded? (find out who)
    • How many firefighters were involved?
    • Was anyone in the home injured and were any firefighters injured?
    • Is there any cause of the fire at this time?
    • Did anything impede fire operations?
    • What were the weather conditions when crews arrived?

That list can go on and on, but you get the idea. Depending on how talkative the people are, you should be able to get at least 10 to 14″ on a fire story.

Disclaimer: I did not talk to the homeowners of the building. I saw them and thought about approaching them, but decided not to. They had just lost their home and there was no way I was going to disrupt them with a quote. In a couple days I may try to get in touch with them, but I doubt it. If my editors want me to, I will, but, in the moment, I knew I wasn’t going to push my chances. It just didn’t feel right.

Covering fires are important stories. This fire was on the news/TV all day and all night. It was a big deal. There is speculation that it was caused by the weather, bu that hasn’t been checked out yet by the fire marshal. That has a process and, for the most part, it takes a long time to figure all of that out.

People want to read the fire stories and we have to cover them. It’s not an easy thing to do, but we have to make sure we are there.

Jonathan

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