Strike a Pose: The importance of image

When on the job, our image that we portray to ourselves and to the public is crucial. The public relies on us to provide stabilization to their lives when they’re at their worst, and support to the community when we aren’t on calls. When it comes down to it we as firefighters agree to put ourselves on display when we agree to be on the department.

There are many ways that this is done. First and most obvious is through our physical appearance. When we take pride in our equipment and our gear the public sees it and they take comfort in it. When our equipment looks broken down and our gear looks tattered it’s difficult to have confidence in a department’s ability to perform. It’s seen when we are doing charitable events, by spectators when we are on scene and by the victims on scene. It can affect our funding and more importantly it’s embarrassing. It’s hard to hold your head up high and look the public in the eye when they don’t think you can do the job you promised.

On the bright side, this is one of the easiest things to remedy. When I first got on my department, we didn’t have state of the art equipment, heck we didn’t even have new equipment. The apparatus that we had were used, and the gear was “hand downs”. Even so we kept a good appearance. We cleaned and polished our trucks, washed the hoses down, and made sure everything was inventoried after every call. Even though our stuff was old we looked good.

This carried over into our confidence, which in turn brings me to the most important way that we put ourselves on display. The way we react isn’t only important to the public but to ourselves. When on a scene the attitude is infectious. If a firefighter is unsure or panicky not only will it adversely affect the patients but it can have drastic effects on your fellow firefighters. This holds true for all firefighters but especially for the seasoned firefighters and officers. When you have a strong adverse reaction those that look up to you can question their ability to perform; and the people that rely on you to watch their back can start to question whether you’ll be there or not. On the other hand, being able to show confidence in what you’re doing and not over react to situations will instill confidence in your crew and everyone around you.

Sadly this isn’t the easiest thing to deal with. There are a litany of things that can cause us to react adversely from how the people around you react to tragic things you might see. Your best ally will be experience, but even then you’ll have to be careful. I remember a call many years back. There was a bad pile up on the interstate. It was a particularly bad winter storm and we had to put civilians in our command unit to get them out of the cold and off of the interstate as vehicles were continuing to add to the crash. The interstates were closed down, and I don’t know how they were getting past the HP but that’s aside from the point. I had just got the last individual into our command, an old suburban, when a car appeared out of the snow sliding sideways towards us. I jumped in and holding on to the spare told them to gun it. The car ended up bumping the car we were just helping and coming to a stop short of us. One of the newer guys on the department was reasonably scared and asked if we should go back and see if they needed help. I was embarrassed when the first thing for the civilians to hear was one of the other guys saying to hell with that.

It’s an incident that still bothers me today. I keep looking back on it and wondering if there was a way we could have prevented it. When it comes down to it there wasn’t really. It didn’t stop us from doing our job, we were tired, and the individual said the first thing that came to mind. It was a simple over reaction to the circumstance. But the look in the civilian’s eyes that was next to me was really hard for me to deal with. It’s a prime example of what not to do and we put on classes on how to act in front of the public because of it. But when it comes down to it, I find that it’s far more effective to instill confidence in my crew by showing confidence to them. It’s not easy some times and it’s an individual battle for each person, but one that needs to be undertaken.

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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?

Just Another Day in the Life of a Firefighter

This blog will act more as a portfolio than anything else. It will tell the story behind my work and the art that comes from it. I hope that by providing this I may be able to inspire you the reader to go out and experience what life has to offer. It won’t showcase all of my work but it will show what has the most meaning to me.

I felt it fitting that the first entry into this blog should be the photo that inspired me to make it in the first place. I was looking through my archives and I found it funny; When you’re growing up you think “If I could just make it through college then I’ll be done with schooling and I can make some real money.” Unfortunately that is never the case. There will always be schooling in one form or another. The difference is that in firefighting the training it’s self is usually fun; I’ll be it a little more dangerous than the classroom work most others get to deal with. When I came to the photo “Just Another Day”, I thought that it was a beautiful example of this. It made me realize that it might be fun to share some of my experiences and thoughts. So with out further delays, the photo that brought this sight to you:

When everything seems to be going wrong and all else seems lost, I can always take comfort in knowing that when I go to work It’ll be just another day in the “office”.

 In 2010 Johnson county firefighters went through an additional 136 hours of ongoing training. This included training in areas of extrication, First Responder/EMT refreshers, High angle and confined space rescue and Haz-Mat. It also included training in the fire areas of Oil/Methane, Vehicle, Structure, Wild land, Haz-Mat and many others. This photo was taken during one of those trainings on June 5th, 2010.