The scene of a fire is very dynamic and always changing. Many things are going on simultaneously. Ladder companies will be performing search, rescue and ventilation while the engine companies will be stretching lines and extinguishing the fire. Some people have called it controlled chaos while others think we all run around breaking things just for the sake of breaking things. With everything that is going on, there are many different things to photograph at the scene and this article will discuss one particular type of shot.
Every photograph should tell a story and as such, every photograph should have a clear subject. You will see many "vacation" photographs, a photograph taken of a large scene with no real subject; it just tells the person looking at the photograph that the photographer was there. As previously stated, a fire scene presents many different subjects to take photos of. One type of shot is referred to as a "work" shot. Simply stated, a work shot is a photo of a firefighter performing some type of operation and does not have to show any actual flames to be effective. As you arrive on the scene, take a look around and see what catches your eyes first. It may be the ladder company opening the roof or the engine company stretching a line into the building. Let's take a look at what to look for from each type of company.
Engine companies- Unless you arrive on scene at the same time as the first due company, the fire attack teams will be inside the building and out of sight. In that case, think about what else engine companies do? Photograph members tying into hydrants, stretching back up lines and operating the pumps.
If you live in a rural area, take photos of tanker relays and pump operations. If the fire grows in intensity and the interior crews are withdrawn, then a whole new photographic opportunity arises. You will now be able to photograph firefighters operating large lines, deck guns and manifolds. When taking these types of photos, try not to always place the subject, firefighter, directly in the center of the photograph.
If you are using a manual focus camera then all you have to do is focus on the firefighter then recompose the photo. If using an auto-focus camera, this can be done by holding the shutter button halfway down until the camera focuses and then, while keeping the shutter halfway down, move the camera so that the firefighter is in either the left or right side of the photo.
Ladder Companies- Truck members perform more of their duties on the outside of the structure than do engine companies. (This is not intended to offend any truckies reading this.) From outside vent positions to roof operations, truck members are usually more visible and easier to photograph. If you arrive early in the course of the fire, take photos of the truck forcing entry or gaining access to the structure. Photograph ventilation operations, either vertical or horizontal. Photograph the members cutting holes in the roof or venting from a ground ladder or fire escape.
Again, if the fire grows in intensity and crews are forced into defensive operations, then greater photographic opportunities will present themselves. Close-up shots of tower ladders operating with heavy fire in the background make great photographs. As the fire darkens down, begin to take photos of the firefighters overhauling the scene and assisting one another to change bottles.
Finally, not every fire ground photo has to have fire showing to tell a firefighters story. Fire shots are what every fire ground photographer are looking for but as you see, it is not always possible; timing is everything in photography. Work shots show the less glamorous operations that firefighters must perform in order to bring a fire under control. The next article will discuss apparatus photography.