Friday, November 8, 2013

Virtual Truths


One reason I started this blog was to help writers understand that when it comes to firefighting, what we see on TV and in the movies shouldn't be taken as the truth.

Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Really? You think I can't tell the difference between fact and fiction?"

Well...no. Writers collectively tend to be a pretty bright bunch; far be it from me to insult anyone's intelligence!

But also...yes. I'm starting to notice more writers, even experienced authors, describing fire and firefighting the way they appear in TV and movies. Sometimes the discrepancies are subtle, fine details that only someone familiar with firefighting would notice and that don't affect the story. Other times descriptions are so blatantly wrong it's obvious the writer didn't do a lick of research.

I blame the prevalence of special effects in TV and movies. Don’t get me wrong – I love the advancements in computer-generated imagery as much as anyone else. But special effects have become so realistic that people tend to forget they’re watching something that’s manmade.

Here's some support for my theory. On Nov.4, The Gazette newspaper published an article about the Colorado Springs Fire Department's FireFactor program, which is designed to educate children about the dangers of fire and firesetting. As part of the program, middle school students were shown a video about the 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of “Catching Fire.” In the second video:

“…a special effects team set a forest on fire, then put the flames out in seconds. When asked if they [the students] thought Hollywood and popular culture affected their attitudes on fire, more than three-quarters of the children answered that it did.”

If three-quarters of these kids say that movies and TV affect how they perceive fire, it’s not much of a stretch to say that adults are influenced as well. Firefighting is not something most people get to experience. In this age of digital special effects, it's all too easy to believe that the fire scenes created in Hollywood reflect real life. 

Fortunately, the Digital Age has also given us tools to see exactly how fire behaves and what happens during fireground operations. YouTube can be a pretty good resource for videos shot by firefighters. Thanks to technology and helmet cameras, viewers can see what fire looks like from the outside of a building, and then go inside to see interior fire and smoke conditions. There are other online resources available, too. Just fire up Google and plug in search terms for whatever you want to see. 

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