Making an Impression

The idea that an artist must suffer to produce great art isn’t exactly true, but there is a strong basis for the idea. Some of the most stunning pieces are very sorrowful pieces, depicting great loss or pain. There is good a reason that these pieces are so popular. A good piece has to show or inspire great emotion. The viewer wants to be able to feel what they see; to have the perception of a connection with the artist. An artist’s goal is to achieve this, to make in impression; and to this end, an artist that suffers has an advantage. You can better portray an emotion if you have experienced it yourself and it is unfortunately far easier to suffer than to experience real bliss.

The works of every artist, and I use the term loosely when talking about me, will be influenced by their experiences. Being in the fire/rescue industry, my works have an obvious trend to them. In fact, it was my experiences that inspired to start my photography (gee go figure right?). Several of my friends would glorify what I do, and would tell me how much they’d love to do it. And again and again I’d find myself telling them that it’s not something I’d recommend they do. It takes a certain attitude to do this job but there are some that have an attitude that scares me. They want to be in it to be heroes. It’s the wrong attitude, and it’s one that makes it very easy to get someone killed. It’s a good feeling that people want to glorify certain professions as heroic. It gives people hope but when it comes to someone thinking they’re a hero it leads to injury.

As I see it, heroes don’t exist. There are people that are well trained and let their experience work, and there are good people that get lucky from time to time, but neither are the “hero’s” that some see them as. A hero is a concept that people came up with to make themselves feel secure; something to reassure them that there will be someone to save them, and the world isn’t than nice and clean cut. Like Oscar Wild said “Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” But I digress. This wandering post is about the pictures that inspire that emotion, not what I think about said emotion; and besides, breaking that illusion would only further to break the illusions my pictures might hold.

To get back on track; when I started taking pictures of the scenes I visited, it was to try and show the hard work and less glamorous aspects of it. Through the years though, I started noticing that several pictures were bring back memories and re-inspiring emotions in me. I figured that maybe it’d be a fun concept to start displaying these photographs as art.

If you’ve followed me this far, it’s only fair that I show a couple of the pictures that inspired this post. This first picture speaks to one of my greater fears, the loss of family. I don’t know why but when I see it I see a little brother standing by helplessly as his older brother succumbs to the flames. It’s always been a tough one to look at for me but one of my favorites none the less.

I’m not the morbid type and don’t show any scenes that I feel are excessively gruesome, but these next two pictures are mature. This next one in particularly speaks to me. It has a lot to do with the individual that was in the accident but I hope it comes across as an impact statement to others. Given a back ground story or putting into context helps it make that statement, and I’d like to do a series that would achieve this effect. To look at it as seems rather lacking but to tell the whole story would take too long here… perhaps another day.

This last picture is once again a strong impact image, though it stands alone better than the last. It may be better suited for a drunk driving commercial than in a gallery but either way there is no need for a back story here.

Once again I am sorry for the late posting and hopefully I’ll be getting back on track here soon. Life has been busy but it won’t always be so. Until then, find some art that inspires you and try and have a good week.

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A Devil In Every Flame

Wow… I guess if I’m going to be posting every other Friday I might want to find the pause button on life. Life being so busy can make things like this difficult but then again it gives me plenty to write about. Though seeing as I’m already late and I have too much to do tomorrow, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet.

It’s said that there is a devil in every flame, and through the years I have seen many a flame and through my photographs I have seen many an apparition. It’s funny what the camera will catch. In all the years I’ve been in this business I’ve probably only seen a “devil in the flame” maybe three times. Chalk it up to being busy or your mind playing tricks on you afterwards; but the only time I seem to see these things is in the pictures later. It’s a cop-out on typing on my behalf, but I’m going to share a few of those with you.

This one doesn’t have the obvious devil in it but it is one of the few situations that I saw one. This pic was taken just after me seeing it. The wire that is hanging down to the right looked just like a noose and still does kind of. It was hanging just below the ceiling and looked like there was someone in it. It was all just illusion but I could have sworn there was someone in it. Then it dropped to the floor like it was loaded. It was all an illusion but an interesting experience none the less.

This one is the namesake and inspiration to this post. One of my favorite and most unexpected pictures, I was astonished when I saw the skull in the upper right corner. Staring at this one for long enough, I’ve found a few more but it’s probably just my over active imagination.

This picture was taken way back in ’02 on a cheep camera through a dirty window and at night; so it’s not the best quality. But even so, I’ve always enjoyed the pic. I’m one of the guys right below the tree. I love how it looks like the fire is getting ready to reach out and grab us.

This was an old trailer house that went up, from the same house as the first pic. A strong wind hit the other end of the trailer and caused this nice barrel roll of flame out the end. I thought it was interesting how it looked like a face screaming out of the end of the house.

I have several more to show but I feel this post has gone on long enough and I’ve probably lost my few readers due to boredom by now so I’ll just quit while I’m behind and make an extra effort to make my next post on time.

 

Ominous Glow: When Panic Meets Rational Thought

Have you ever had one of those moments when you thought, “great… This is it.”? I would love to say that that would be an understatement here but unfortunately it’s exactly what I was thinking. I wasn’t capable of anything more at the time. Let me set the situation up for you so you might be able to understand a little better. We got paged out to a methane compressor station fire. When we arrived on scene we found that it was one of the twenty seven compressor buildings on this particular facility. Each building contained four engines and each engine running over a cool mill. This particular facility ran 24/7 and was a major supply line so the company man on scene was eager to get the place back up and running. We had the gas to the facility shut down and began suppression operations. The crew was constantly getting in the way and putting themselves in danger in the process. We eventually had to have the police remove the crew to prevent them from being a further hindrance.

As you can imagine tension was already high on this call but suppression efforts started going our way. We contained the fire to the half of the building where the initial ignition occurred losing only two of the engines. As the initial battle started to die down, try to imagine if you can an eerie silence. The fire was out and there was a lot of heat still in the building but there was still a lot of smoke so it was black in there. I shut the nozzle down and all I can hear is my SCBA hissing from each breath and there’s nothing I can see. For now I’m just listening, trying to hear any noise. After the way this call started, this silence is unnerving to say the least. I was just starting to tell my partner that we should pull out and get the building ventilated when I hear the deafening roar. As I turn toward the sound I seen this flash of light and instead of reacting, I just pause. My mind went blank and I just sat there for a second thinking “well…. That was a good life I guess.”

It must not have been that long that I paused because my team told me I tore out of there faster than they had ever seen me move and with murder in my eyes. It didn’t take me any time to figure out what had happened and when I came out of that building I was ready to do things that are unbefitting of a firefighter, or most people for that matter. Luckily for the company man, our Chief was the one that got to him before any of us.

In this instance, the officers on scene just didn’t have the manpower to fully secure the scene. The company man had wanted to get the facility back up and running so he grabbed a couple hands and turned it on; but when he had the gas turned back on, he failed to turn the bypass on to that building. Needless to say, the entire facility was shut down immediately and everyone that wasn’t fire or police was removed from the facility. Up until this instance, scene security hadn’t been a problem. We worked with the methane companies well and they always co-operated with us without question. So to this point there was no need for certain regulations to be made.

It was a bad situation that led to some serious meetings and thought being put into our policies. More importantly, it also gave me another perspective on situations. It’s really hard to listen to a teacher telling you to be aware of the people surrounding a scene and implement it. You hear and understand the reasons but until you are put in a situation like this one, it doesn’t really sink in. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to miss things. But then something like this happens and you start taking that extra time on the way to the call to think “what if”, and the time after the calls to actually analyze what went good and what could have gone better. It’s a personal experience that most of us will have to experience firsthand to get the benefit from but it’s a good example of where panic can meet rational thought.

Devastation: A moment when time stands still

I really like the contrast in this one. It makes it feel like you're there and just for a second time has stopped. The fire has gone through and nuked the ground, wiping clean the once dense vegetation in a matter of moments. When this fire went through it took less than a minute to reduce heavy sage to the bare ground that was left.

 

Aptly named for obvious reasons; this picture is actually named from the sense of irony that it inspires in me. It brings up feelings probably completely opposite to what an independent viewer would feel. For me, it inspires feelings of joy and reminiscing. I have to admit, this is probably my favorite photograph to date, and not just of my own work but of any I’ve seen. It’s not that I feel I’m the best out there (not really good even) or that I have the best equipment, it’s more of a personal thing. That kind of sounds arrogant but let me explain.

This fire was making a hard run at this time, to the point that we could only watch as it turned acres upon acres of trees and brush to simple ash in mere moments. We were tired, we were thirsty, and we were just hoping that our plans would come through. The smoke was a choking cloud that made you wonder what air tasted like and the heat was blistering. This was an inferno but amidst this turmoil I found a moment of perfection. Time slowed to a stop and held its breath while I took a picture of its beauty. It felt like a scene from a movie. It was one of those few moments when you feel like you have all the time in the world to look at your surroundings; to just walk around and experience a single moment in time.

It’s a rare thing for me to capture a moment so fully on camera as it was for me being there but to me that’s what this picture represents. Each time I look at this picture I relive the feelings of being on that fire. I remember the hard work and yes I’ll admit it, the good times that I had while fighting the fire. I’d be lying to say that I don’t enjoy a good fire, and fool if I thought I could make any of you think otherwise. And that’s where it’s personal. No one may ever look at this picture and see anything more than a fire gone by but for me, I see the fire exactly how I remember it. I see beauty, accomplishment, and everything that isn’t devastation.

My own insight on this picture shapes everything it is to me. It’s what gives it the beauty I see. Though I can’t help but wonder… When you first saw this picture did it merit a second glance? Was there a beauty in it for you as there was for me, or did you come to read this article out of mere curiosity? And if you have gotten this far; do your initial feelings of the picture still exist, or have they changed? And if you’re really feeling ambitious, tell me what you see in the picture. Regardless if you like it or not, feel free to voice it. I love hearing the opinions of others.

Chaotic Serenity: What’s Never Expected

There are always certain things that you expect when you’re on a fire; peace isn’t one of them. It was probably the most surreal thing I have ever felt. It may sound cliché but when I was taking the picture it seemed as though the fire went silent. The heat of it radiated off of everything and made it feel like someone had wrapped me in a blanket but it was perfectly calm and everything around was peaceful, including the wildlife. There were birds chirping, even a deer lying down nearby. All the while a fire silently raging on… it was almost as if the day refused to acknowledge it happening.

It really strikes me as funny; I’ve spent some time trying to remember how loud it was but I just can’t. All I can remember is the sound of the chickadee chirping in the background while somewhere off to my right a meadowlark sang its tune. Just about ten yards to the right of this picture a doe is laying in a grassy field watching everything unfold and piney creek babbles on behind me. Just the slightest breeze occasionally moves through, not even strong enough to really disturb the smoke, just lightly tussling the grass and the sun shines down in a cloudless sky. I’ve never seen a nicer day.

When I’m too old to work anymore and the night is closing down around me, this will be one of those memories I cherish as I sit on a cold winter’s eve and sip coffee.

Peaceful Vigilance: The Art of Letting Go

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they just have to take a step back and admit that things are out of their control. For most people this is a time of dread and hardships. For me, it’s a chance to relax and watch the world go by.

This picture has meaning to me far beyond the subjects captured in it. I’ve always loved photography but it’s only in recent years that I’ve started looking at it in an artistic manner. Such as that is, I was going through my files some three or four years back when I stumbled across this image. I had forgotten that I even took it. It’s one of those images that struck me for some reason but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I decided to set it as a background so I could ponder over it whenever I was at my computer. And for all the thought I put into it, I lost my original feeling towards the pic. I did however start to connect it to loss; Loss of tactical advantage, loss of control, and just loss in general. But instead of regarding it as tragic, I used it as an inspiration to move on.
Unfortunately in my line of work, control is really an illusion. We have a job and we do our best to get it done but when it comes down to it, we’re flying by the seat of our pants. On wild land fires we do our best to predict the activity but we can’t control the weather. We watch the fuels but we can’t control the fuel moisture. We do our best to predict what is going to happen but sometimes we just can’t do that. What makes a good fire fighter is not only knowledge but also the ability to just let go sometimes. In this case there was no hope of catching it and only trees would burn up so the foreman just sat back and watched the fire run. We later caught it when it was in a better spot and no one was put at risk. It was the right choice and it inspired me.
This picture helped me to realize that I needed to apply this tactic to more parts of my life. I live in a rather small community and being as such the fires and car accidents I go on are often involving people I know/knew. Quite often, it’s people I don’t know or people I just knew of, but occasionally it’s someone that I know well. Over time, it’s something that can get to you if you let it, and I admit that it started to get to me a little. But thinking about this picture helped me to realize that these were just other situations where I lost control. I couldn’t stop that house from starting on fire or that car from rolling. The only thing I can do is my job as I was trained and the rest I just have to sit back and let the world go by.
In a perfect world, everything would go as planned and you’d never have to compromise. It seems that one of the hardest things in the world is to do nothing, to not be in control. Every aspect of our upbringing today is about controlling our individual futures. We’re brought up to believe that we have all these wonderful rights and we control our life and make it what we want. It’s a wonderful and comforting thought, but it’s a flimsy reality. The truth is that while the feeling of control is nice, our plans can be thrown off with even the simplest of events. The question is; when it happens, will you be able to cope with it, or will it destroy everything you’ve worked for?

Is your equipment making your job dangerous?

Equipment is one of the things that we’ve come to rely on. It allows us to bring water to the fire, the tools we need to get the job done, and enables us to get to places we weren’t able to before. Most have come to expect it to be there, and with proper maintenance and upkeep it usually will be. The problem with this is when it goes down you’re likely going to be in bad shape. You may have thought you were in a good position to fight the fire, and you may have before your equipment went down, but you have to remember that the question of safety is relative. I’m not too proud to admit that sometimes the equipment on my department goes down unexpectedly. Any firefighter that won’t admit that hasn’t been in this line of work long, is lying, or is oblivious to the point that he/she is a danger to themselves and others.

We hit the ground running that night. Even though it was midnight, tall sage brush and low humidity caused a wind driven fire with 15 - 20 foot flame lengths. I snapped this shot after we got the head of the fire knocked down and were getting ready to go back around and reinforce the line. Near by methane structures were the main concern, which we were luckily able to save all of them.

The situation that brought on this post happened the other day. As seen on the left, we were running a wet line alongside some fairly heavy flame lengths when I lost water. Not a good position to be in. I signal the driver to back off and we pull into the safety of the black, while the driver tells the other trucks on the fire that we’re pulling off. In this particular incident it was a simple matter of backing off and diagnosing a simple problem. It turned out that the nozzle was clogged from sand out of a dirty draft. A pain when it happens but not the end of the world. It went well this time because I stayed calm and we kept people informed. That allowed us to get back into the fire quickly and even allowed for a photo opp.

Unfortunately I’ve seen it go the other way as well. In 2007, on the Little Goose fire in Sheridan County Wyoming, a freshly put together contract crew got themselves in a bad spot because they panicked. Their job was a simple one. Their task was to check and refuel a sprinkler system that my crew put in while we finished prepping the remaining structures. We were supposed to go back and do final checks before clearing all units out but when we didn’t hear from them we decided to go back in early. One of the crew members was in a hurry and had put diesel in the mark 3 pump. We found him pulling away trying to get it started. We told him to go get his truck ready to leave while we worked on it because it was getting near time to pull out. He was obviously worried about being down in that area and in his worry ended up forgetting that his engine was a diesel engine and filled it with the only other gas tank he had on it. You guessed it, it was unleaded. Surprising how fast things can go downhill when you panic or rush isn’t it? The problem here wasn’t the equipment but the person operating it but the equipment still went down because of him; and when it did, he didn’t know how to act or what to do. If not for my crew going back in things would have turned out much worse.

I guess the end purpose of this post is to say that while equipment is nice you need to be able to continue your work if it goes down. Stay calm, back out to safety or a position where you can take a moment to assess the situation, and make a new plan if you have to. This example was of wild land fires but the same principle goes for all calls you’ll go on. I’ll leave it off here before this post gets too long and stay safe.