Fire scene photography

In my mind, responsible fire scene photography includes doing your best to catch the action and document the incident. Sometimes those tasks are the same, but many times they are not. We all want to shoot the massive smoke and flames, the firefighter with the dirty face, or the once in a lifetime heroic rescue. But there are many less glamorous shots that are important to get if you want to provide a cohesive overview of the incident.

In order to adequately document the scene which can be extremely important for training and post incident debriefing, it’s necessary for the fire scene photographer to move around and shoot everything. For me, that means doing my best to document the apparatus on-scene, especially those units that were put to work.

Overall images of the scene record the placement of all units, hose lines, proximity of exposures, and at times the spectators. If I can do this in one shot from each side of the incident, then that’s great. Otherwise, I try to assemble panoramic images to give a sense of the entire fireground.

Some fires and scenes are huge, and offer quite a bit to document.

massive colin of smoke at building fire
Distant image showing a huge column of smoke and an overall view of the scene from one corner. Larry Shapiro photo

These images from the Empress Casino fire in Joliet Illinois show the size of the fire scene. I was on the scene for over four hours and spent a good part of that time walking around to document as many aspects of the operation as I could.

portable tanks and fire engines provide water at huge fire
An involved water supply setup with four portable tanks and engines drafting from them. Larry Shapiro photo
panoramic image of a fire scene i
This panoramic image depicts the view of a water supply operation, hose lines, and the involved structures. Larry Shapiro photo
fire department tanker at fire scene
One of many water tankers dumping into a portable tank alongside the fire building. Larry Shapiro photo

Some fires, just keep on giving … for the photographers, and there’s adequate time to move around and shoot all sectors.

firefighters and fire trucks at massive building fire
This image shows apparatus placement in a addition to one of the water supply operations in one sector. Larry Shapiro photo
chief fire officer surveys massive fire scene
One of the chief fire officers surveys a section of the building that was burning freely. Larry Shapiro photo

As I’ve stated before, don’t get caught in one place for the entire time if there’s access to more of the scene.