Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Point at something so they think you're in charge

For many of us, getting your photo in a newspaper is when you buy up a handful of papers and then harvest your photo for personal albums, share with a friend or two and – most important -- send to Mom.  Since fires and other emergencies are magnets for photographers, it follows that many firefighters find themselves within a newspaper photo, whether or not their names appear in the caption. It’s fun when it happens, so long as it’s not an embarrassing moment.

Dave Wilcot came on shift only six months earlier than me, so in the early 70’s we often found ourselves on the same hose line, heeling a ladder for each other, or assigned as partners on the then pre-paramedic days ambulance. So it happened on occasion that one or both of us would show up in the local weekly newspaper every few months. It was more frequent than you’d expect since we had a lot of fires during those early years, so we turned it into a competitive game when possible by upstaging each other whenever possible when one of us saw a camera being raised in our direction. 

When the opportunity presented itself, each of us would devise a way to either be located in the forefront when photographers were around, or quickly draw attention away from the other. Not that we responded to emergencies and only sought out the responding press corps, but once in awhile an opportunity for this continuing friendly one-upsmanship would arise.

I had some fun one night, as we were on the scene of a large industrial building fire. The building was a large old abandoned 4 story factory and office type, and the large contingency on scene at the time was primarily training master streams from several sides in a “surround and drown” action.  One of the master stream appliances was located in front of the building – “stage front” in this instance – with two firefighters manning the 3 inch line feeding a smooth bore nozzle. Dave was the firefighter sitting astride the appliance helping to keep it stable.

The Captain had just told me and another firefighter to go around to the west side of the building to relieve the crew manning another master stream.  As we moved toward the building, I noticed a couple of photographers positioning themselves for a couple of shots, so I quickly diverted a few yards to stop by Dave at the front master stream.

I approached him from the side, and stopped by his left knee, while bending down and extending my left arm up – pointing to the fire while sweeping it left and right – I told him, “Hi Dave, just wanted to stop by and point around a bit to look like I was in charge so they can get a couple of photos.” 

Dave got revenge soon after. It wasn’t until the next photo appeared in the paper that I noticed that while all of the rest of us had our names and badge numbers stenciled in white paint on our bunker coats, he’d painted his name and number in reflective paint he had obtained from the city’s sign department.

Until all of us eventually received updated bunker gear with reflective strips and lettering, Dave stood out in every photo for some time.