A firefighter being interviewed by another firefighter
10 Jan 2018

Learn to tell your stories of Lessons Learned on video


ALMOST EVERY FIRE HALL has somebody who is tech savvy, someone with a video camera, somebody involved in music recording or may be in possession of a good microphone. If your´e a chief or an officer in charge of a team: Consider to utilize these resources, let these creative firefighters work on a video story for a week  instead of washing the truck or working in the office while waiting on calls.


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By: Bjorn Ulfsson, CTIF Communications Coordinator  (Article courtesy of BT Video Productions.)

Lecturing - in person - about interesting calls or particularly difficult fires or accidents tend to be the prevalent method-of-choice for firefighters sharing stories of Lessons Learned. But what happens to those valuable Lessons when that particular officer retires, or finds another job?

How are you collecting the stories and Lessons Learned from the lesser officers, the pump man or the nozzle man?

Record your stories from Fire & Rescue - Before they are lost!
This article is especially for those firefighters with a special interest in photography, video, IT - or who just harbor a burning desire to preserve the Lessons Learned from the Fire Hall. Don´t hesitate to contact us at BT Video Productions Ltd if you need more advice on telling your story.

So many valuable firefighting stories are lost everyday.

Lessons Learned on things that could have been done better, things which were done really well, problems which were ingeniously solved in the heat of the moment. Memories of colleagues lost or injured.

Trust me, it will pay off in the long run, in the form of better preserving the knowledge acquired from calls. It may even be a way to debrief that you had never even considered!

Stories of Lessons Learned really do help other firefighters!
One of the best ways to preserve these stories of Lessons Learned (and you all have them, every single firefighter on your station!) is to record them on video.
It doesn´t have to be complicated, just set up a camera and a mic in a quiet place, and ask that person to describe what happened. Start with when the call came in, what was it about, how many vehicles / teams were called out to begin with. Then describe what happened, from beginning to end.
Only interrupt or ask questions if the person get´s stuck. It´s not an interview like on TV . Firefighters know their job, and they know what happened. They´ll be able to tell the story. It´s not an interrogation, not an investigation and it is not about  determining fault or blame - only about sharing so that others can make (even) better decisions in the future!
Only ask to share what the person is comfortable sharing. If they ask to turn off the camera, turn it off, and no questions asked!

Setting up your interview:
If you don´t have a video camera, an iPhone 5s or higher, (or a good Android) can do the trick. Try to get a decent mic though, and place it near the person who is talking. A decent mic shouldn´t have to cost more than €50-100.
Try to set your camera up on a tripod or on something steady so that it doesn´t shake during the interview. If you shoot using a smart phone, you can buy a cheap selfie stick and connect it to the screw mount of the tripod.
If it is a "spur of the moment" situation and there is no time to set up a proper interview, just establish permission, and roll the tape!


 Don´t just interview the chief or officer in charge.
Interview everybody who played a role in the fire.  If something dramatic - or traumatic -  happened, ask them to describe how they felt when it happened. You´ll be surprised at the answers!
Ask how resources were allocated, and how the incident was sized up as it progressed. Ask what priorities were made, and what had to be sacrificed to get the fire or incident under control.
Make sure to ask the nozzle man and the guy on the ladder what they saw. Everybody´s experience is valuable in a team.

Special Considerations with LODD and mass scale injuries

Were there any injuries on the call? Any deaths? Any Line of Duty Deaths?
Treat these interviews with particular respect as unsuspected emotions can come up during the interview.
Don´t be surprised if tears come when talking about difficult calls. It´s all part of the process. Keep the camera rolling, and don´t assume tears are an embarrassment. Be prepared to stop if the person asks to, and thank them for their courage after. Assure them the tapes will be tossed if they change their minds about being interviewed.

Finish by asking:
"What did you feel went well during the call?"
"What could have been done better"?
"How have you changed as a firefighter from this experience"?
Important: Always say: "Thank you so much for Sharing your Story with others! It will help others make great decisions in the future!"


Confidentiality is important
Talking in front of the camera can be scary.
Assure everybody involved that nothing will be made public until everybody interviewed has reviewed the edited piece, and agreed to the content and how their story comes across. if somebody is uncomfortable with something, take it out, and don´t ask any questions why. It is important to create an atmosphere of trust when sharing.
Decide from the start how the piece will be shared: Public? Or just to be shared internally?
If you decide to change the original idea, ask for permission again before re-sharing the story.

While working as a Senior Video Producer for the Swedish government video series "90 Seconds" at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) for many years,  I was amazed at how many firefighters found it therapeutic to talk to us, on camera, about their experiences.
Of course, the stories we made at such a large government agency were quite time consuming and in some cases costly, with 3D-animations and so on. But it doesn´t have to be fancy - someone being filmed explaining what happened on a white board, drawing the scene or the building, is surprisingly effective.
Also, if the incident is fresh, go back and take some shots of the scene after the fact. perhaps there is still some activity, some smoldering smoke coming from the ashes. Capture it.
Try to gather some good video footage, or even just stills, of what the area looked like before, and after.
The most important thing to keep in mind is: It doesn´t have to be perfect! But if you don´t record it, it will eventually be lost. Forever.

PREPARING TO EDIT your Lessons Learned story on video:

Once your interviews are recorded and out of the way, now begins the next phase of preserving your story: Editing.
The editing process is often where people skimp out. Once the tapes are recorded, they usually end up in a drawer never to see the light of day.
Don´t let this happen! Present your Lessons Learned the same way as you would when presenting to a group of peers at a conference - only this time, record your voice on "tape"!
Start by collecting any still images taken by the crew, or given to the station by the media or the public. If there is any video from helmet cameras, bystanders or news crews, label them and put them in a folder on an external hard drive or the server. (Don´t put your valuable media just on the C-drive on your laptop. That´s how accidents happen! Back your stuff up!)

Organizing your project
Make a general folder for your story. Let´s call it  "Ashtown Fire Video Project" (or whatever your
incident was called). Make sure it is labelled in a way that it is specific enough  that you will remember later.
Inside your folder, create these sub folders:
"Ashtown Interviews"
"Ashtown Incident Video"
"Ashtown incident Still Photos"
"Ashtown Incident Misc"(for google maps, reports, anything else which may be useful )
"Ashtown Incident Project Files" (This is where you will want to save the project files from your editing software.)

Video Editing Software
Technically, your editing can be as simple as recording voice over on a Power Point.
However,  since it is a video we are making, we suggest to take it a step higher. Professional video editing software is somewhat expensive, but Windows Movie Maker for PC or iMovie for Mac are surprisingly powerful.
If you have a few hundred to spend, we can recommend Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere Elements or Final Cut Pro X. The most powerful editing suite today is probably Adobe Creative Suite, which can be rented by the month or by the year from Adobe.com. Renting is a great option but gets expensive over time.
At the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, we used Avid Media Composer. This top of the line editing software is great if you have a few thousands to spare, but is overkill and has a bit of a learning curve too.
Ingest your footage into the program the same way you would bring in your home videos. Take special consideration as to how still photographs are handled by the program. make sure all the proportions are correct.
Now, listen to all of your interviews and start making a rough cut on the timeline of each person´s story. Cut out all the warm up talk, leave out interview parts that didn´t work out. Concentrate on the best answers, but don´t edit them or move them around yet.
Group all the interview answers together, person by person, and leave some space in between.

Creating a "voice over"
A voice over is basically the voice of a story teller (you or anyone else who has a clear, concise speaking voice) who fills in the blanks of certain facts or parts of the story    which weren´t covered in your interviews.
Write a brief report on the incident, the way you would expect to hear it on an in depth news radio show.
Record your voice over on a smart phone or a USB mic, or even on your video camera. Lay the voice over down as a back ground story on your time line, and use it as a foundation for your video report.
Cut up your voice over into smaller chunks, so that they can easily be moved around on your time line.

Building your story
Now, build your story using the different block elements you have, and piece together relevant voice over with pieces of interviews that tend to go with each other.
Be prepared to change the voice over and re-record new sections as you build your piece.

Covering your story with images from the incident

Now this is where you story will either really come to life - or start to fall apart:-)
Start putting your images of video and stills from the incident on top of of what is being said in the story. Make sure to pick images which illustrate what is being spoken, and leave these images on the time line between 5 and 30 seconds for each shot or still photograph.
Make sure that you show the person talking at least once per segment or topic covered. Don´t be afraid to leave a "talking head" uncovered if you need save your B-roll images to cover the voice over.  Don´t leave the voice over black, or uncovered. If you don´t have enough images to cover your voice over, it is probably too long. Try to re-write it shorter, and re-record it.
Now - if you have arranged all the pieces of interviews and voice over in a chronological way, or some other way that makes sense, and you have looked over your B-roll of images captured from the event, you have finished your First Draft.

Gather your people, put the show on a projector or a large TV-screen and have everybody sit down
to watch.
Listen to what the people say. Try to invite also people who don´t know the incident - listen to
what each person gets out of the story.
Take notes. If this is your first video report, there will probably be parts that don´t makes sense to others - but don´t fret - all the original interviews are intact, so you can just re-cut it until you get it right!
This, folks, marks the End of Part 1 of "Learning to Tell your Lessons Learned on Video" - In a future post we will dig deeper into the art & craft of creating a great video edit.


Remember - don´t worry about making it fancy!
If the only thing you take with you from this article is that you go out and document one story from a call, then that is something for us all to be proud of!
The editing and the story telling we can help you with, BUT YOU HAVE TO START VIDEO TAPING YOUR VALUABLE STORIES, or they will be lost forever!
Be Safe out there - and thank you for Sharing!

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