Waldo Canyon Fire Footage Wins Local Emmy

July 20--Most firefighters don't win local Emmy awards.

But Steve Schopper is not the average firefighter. He's an audio video specialist for the Colorado Springs Fire Department, and he is a volunteer lieutenant with the Manitou Springs Fire Department.

The 61-year-old Schopper's footage used in the Denver Post documentary "The Fireline: Wildfire in Colorado," won a local Emmy in the Heartland chapter -- which encompasses a five-state region -- on July 12 for Public/Current/Community Affairs.

"When the Waldo Canyon Fire was going down I was in our fire department operations centers. I looked at (then-fire chief) Tommy Smith, I said 'I think this is a historical event in Colorado Springs," Schopper said. "I think I need to be out there documenting it.'"

With the chief's permission, that's exactly what the 38-year fire service veteran did.

Schopper's footage of firefighters saving homes attracted nationwide attention.

A chance encounter with a Denver Post photographer during a tour of the burned Mountain Shadows neighborhood developed into a connection that led to much of Schopper's footage being used in the 30-minute documentary.

The video documented how fires had blazed through Colorado neighborhoods, killing residents and causing unprecedented destruction.

It also highlighted the challenges of firefighting, said Schopper.

"To show what people and firefighters were doing to save these homes, in my mind, that's where the story was," Schopper said. "That's what I wanted to tell. That's what I wanted to show."

He said the documentary should help people adjust their expectations of what firefighters can and cannot do while facing such an enormous force of nature.

"There are some things that are beyond (firefighter's) control, that are beyond man's control," he said. "That documentary helps people realize that you have to take responsibility for what you build and do in an area that's prone to fire."

Schopper, along with his editor, Christian Wright, an employee with the City of Colorado Springs, was also nominated for his "Black Forest Fire Structure Protection" video that went viral last year.

In the video, Schopper recorded a crew of four saving a home on a well-mitigated property. The video, he explained, showed very graphically, how the fire wanted to climb up the trees, but couldn't.

"I thought that one had great educational context," he said.

The video was nominated for a Short Format Program Emmy. It didn't win, but over the last year, though it made waves worldwide.

"I had no idea that thing would go all around the world like it did," Schopper said."I got calls and emails from places all over the globe saying how much it really inspired people to limb up their trees and do a little bit of fuels managements," he said.

Schopper cherishes the award he did win, though. It's on display at the front desk of the fire department's headquarters on Printer's Parkway, and he still gets excited when recounting the thrill of hearing that the documentary had won.

"I think they could have heard me screaming in three counties," he said with a laugh.

Copyright 2014 - The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)