MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) — When a fire breaks out, chances are Matthew Van Ness will join firefighters in responding to the scene with his video camera in tow.
Van Ness maintains a YouTube channel, a Vimeo channel and a Twitter account on behalf of the department. The video channels have hours of video from the Meriden Fire Department — fires, responses, events, training sessions — while Twitter is used to send messages about fire responses.
Fire Chief James Trainor said it's become a sort of partnership with Van Ness.
"He's a videographer. I don't know if we've latched onto him or him onto us," Trainor said. "He did a video documentary on the Meriden Fire Department. He got hooked in."
Van Ness explained how he got interested. A friend in the Fire Department knew he did video work and asked if he would be interested in doing a documentary about the department. Van Ness and his company, MV Film Productions, usually shoot wedding and special event videos.
When there was consideration given to closing the Broad Street firehouse as a budgetary matter a couple of years ago, he came on board to do the documentary.
"It spawned my interest in the Fire Department," he said.
Van Ness listens to a radio scanner at his home and also has a pager on the Fire Department frequency. When an important call comes in, he grabs his gear and heads to the scene.
On a recent Monday, firefighters got a call at about 3:30 a.m. for an attic fire on Wilcox Avenue. Van Ness was sleeping, he said, but woke up when he heard the "all call" tones on the scanner followed by the alert for a working structure fire.
"I jumped up, got dressed and ran out," Van Ness said. "I show up now whenever there is a big call. They don't have a problem with me. Even the police are starting to recognize me."
Trainor said Van Ness knows not to get in the way of fire personnel or in dangerous situations during an emergency call.
"He's a good kid. The firefighters like him and he knows to stay out of the way during a response," Trainor said. "He's learning some great skills, too."
Van Ness said he started going to fire calls when he heard them on the scanner, but after seeing the response from the firefighters, he started going more frequently.
When viewing his video of a large fire in South Meriden, the firefighters didn't simply look for each other, Van Ness said. They started using the video as a tool to assess their work.
That's the main reason he maintains the video sites, so firefighters can review their work, not to highlight someone's house being destroyed, Van Ness said. Firefighters include several of his videos on their website .
Van Ness has also rode along with firefighters, going on fire trucks on the way to emergencies. A couple of the videos used cameras mounted on the fire trucks to capture the response.
While on the scene, he'll pull out his phone to Tweet about what is happening.
The YouTube channel, MeridenFireVideos, contains several shorter clips while the Vimeo page allows for longer videos, such as the original documentary.
"It's good to get the department's name out there. It is a good department," Van Ness said.
In between his job and running out to fire scenes, Van Ness attends the New England Institute of Art near Boston. He is also considering becoming a firefighter himself someday.
Information from: Record-Journal
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