At a fire scene, some would say that if you want to know which guys were doing the work, you have to look for the fireman with a dirty face. Others might argue the point for a number of reasons. Regardless of the intent behind the argument, certainly some of the most interesting environmental portraits or opportunities for photojournalism come from the guys that are dirty, wet, or exhausted.
These firemen are in Chicago, a large, busy department with strong traditions where this image represents a common scene. Many younger departments both large and small don’t tolerate dirty gear, helmets, and faces. Some require gear to be washed after any significant fire, and that the dirty face reveals a lack of concern for one’s personal health and well being due to the chemicals and carcinogens that are released during fires.
As long as the guys … or girls … present an interesting persona … the photographers will continue to capture and record the drama of the job.