By Sedda Kreabs
Photographers with little or no experience covering wildfires might not know what to have in a Fire Kit that's ready to go at a moment's notice. Pete Demetriou, a 26-year news veteran and wildfire reporter in Los Angeles, CA, offers his personally customized list of what to have packed for your photo team.
"I don't even want to guess how many fires I've been on," Demetriou says about his experience covering five Malibu canyon fires, as well as oilfield fires in Kuwait, among others. He keeps a backpack in his car at all times as his Fire Kit, containing gear necessary to protect his safety while covering wildfires (listed below).
His pack weighs around 35-40lbs without camera gear. Demetriou replenishes his pack at least once per year, on a day he is sure to have down time.
"Work with your county fire officials and local US Forest Service firefighters to develop a kit for your photo team. The news organization should provide the kit for its staff, but if they will not, you can deduct the cost from your taxes as a business expense," he says.
Here's his recommended Fire Kit:
- Good, broken-in, heavy boots that extend above the ankle. Allows you to walk through embers and uneven ground easily. $60-150
- At least three changes of socks, you're going to need them. $15-45
- NOMEX® jumpsuit or NOMEX® brushpants and jacket. You will need a long sleeve shirt underneath the NOMEX® to guard against heat. $200
- NOMEX® balaclava. Protects your face and neck from small embers and heat. $8
- Hat or helmet with a brim. Keeps ashes off of your head. $15-45
- A good flashlight with C or D batteries. $30
Keep extra batteries on hand, Replenish annually. $8
- Several bright, long-life Cylume sticks. Wear 1-2 while shooting in the dark so you can be seen. Replenish annually. $10
- Many photographers choose to carry a fire shelter. Demetriou, a radio reporter, is not a fan of these. "If you're in where you need a fire shelter, you're too ... close."
- A good pair of binoculars. Look at where the fire is and is heading to keep yourself safe. $130
- A large, strong backpack fitted to your body, to store these items and any others you plan to carry. $50-250
- 1-2 gallons water in 20-oz bottles with a wide mouth. Plan to drink 1qt. water per hour to avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration. Replenish annually. $8
- High-energy food/snacks. 10-15 Energy bars divided among 2-3 zipper bags. Keep your judgment sharp so you can make solid, quick decisions in an emergency. Replenish annually. $15-30
Comfort and Support
- Good First Aid kit from an outdoors shop, ~ 8"x3" size box. $15
- At least one roll of toilet paper, in a zipper bag. $1
- Four bottles of preserved saline solution. Keep one in your pocket to flush ash from your eyes. $20
Knowledge and Training
- Always make sure you know where your back door is to get out. Always. Know your safe zones, a cleared area of 150 feet (50 paces) in each direction.
- Point the nose of your vehicle in the direction of your "out" and leave it running.
- When the firefighters say it's time to leave, get out.
- Work with your local and county firefighters to get formal training, and renew training frequently. Oftentimes you can attend all or part of the firefighters' routine courses.
- Keep your gas tank full. Vapors in a half-empty tank are volatile in intense heat.
- If the fire is coming uphill, do not park on a ridge above it. "It will fry you and your rig before you can blink," Demetriou said. Watch for changing winds.
Remember Hyams' law (Joe Hyams was a combat correspondent and author): "If you cannot file your story, you are useless to the news organization. If you are dead or seriously injured you are perfectly useless."
"Do not get dead or seriously injured. It's a story. There comes a time to leave and you get out," Demetriou said.