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    Posted April 15, 2013 by
    berlin, Vermont
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Photo essays: Your stories in pictures

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    Burning to learn


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     For experienced photojournalist collierphoto, this photo shoot was just like covering any other fire--except with this one, he saw it through the perspective of a firefighter, and had to take the photos in extreme conditions with little to no visibility. 'At first I was thinking I’m not going to get any photos. I couldn't see through the viewfinder, so I was guessing how far things were from me. I was using a wide angle lens, holding it out from my face and looking at the distance dial, and going off the inherent depth of field of the wide angle lens.'

    collierphoto has connections with local firefighters in the Vermont area, and they allowed him to accompany them in this training exercise. He says it was a great experience, and that he would definitely do it again, even though it was very intense. 'It was almost like being in this super hot steam bath.'

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    - jne2013, CNN iReport producer

    Fire fighters from across Central Vermont gathered early Sunday morning to take part in a special training opportunity. That opportunity was a “live burn”.
    During a “live burn” training, firefighters burn an actual structure to the ground and practice various techniques from search and rescue to fire suppression.
    The importance of live burn training is rooted in the realistic, yet controlled nature of the exercise. Because the structures are actual buildings that have been used for human occupation, the training brings an element of realism in the form of toxic fumes, the heat in an enclosed space and the extraordinary difficulty of moving through an unfamiliar smoke filled structure with no very limited light.

    While I have, as a photojournalist, covered many fires, accidents and natural disasters, Sunday’s training provided me with an opportunity to experience the fire from the perspective of the men and women who actually put their lives at risk each day.
    I was given the green light to don the protective gear the firemen wear and allowed to follow a crew into the center of the burning structure and photograph the firefighters in action, in the burning structure in a way that I have never done before. What I came away with from that experience was a whole new appreciation of just how difficult and dangerous the job of a firefighter actually is.

    For most of us, the idea of a house fire is a very abstract concept. The experience of being inside an actively burning smoke filled building is very difficult to put into words. It is almost impossible to see anything through the smoke and dark. The gear, which weighs about 60 plus pounds and is all that keeps one alive under conditions a human was never meant to be in. The mask that supplies oxygen and protects the firefighters face further limits the field of view.
    “It is a tough job,” said Berlin Fire Chief Miles Silk Jr., “trainings like today are invaluable and provide firefighters with the practical experience that can be the difference between life and death. For the firefighter and the civilians who are calling for help.”
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