Monday, March 28, 2011

Fire In Chicopee: 2nd Devestation in 2011

Before I begin my story, I would like to say thank you to all of the responding firefighters on Sunday's tragic loss. Thank you for your dedication. Some people punch in and sit behind a desk, a computer, a cash register, or a machine, you as firefighters punch in when the tones go off and put your all on the line, without question, for the lives of people you do not know, buildings you may have never been in for business you may never need. Your day starts when that call goes out for your help. Your day ends when the last piece of smoldering timber is put out and the scene is contained and safe. Thank you for protecting our community/s.

I had my phone on vibrate and didnt feel it go off when I was meandering around Target. It wasnt until I got in the car I had noticed a text screaming, get down to Sheridan St in Chicopee, there was a massive fire. Seconds later my conversation was interrupted by a call. I was about to make my way out of the car to get back into mine when I took the call. It was a friend, "get down here," is all I remember. I knew the location from the text and knew that if it was that bad, I would see smoke. I said goodbyes as I was fiddingling with attaching my lens to my camera and checking the amount of space on my card. Seconds later I was tearing through the parking lot to make my way to the scene. Fearing it was a house fire, once the smoke became visible, the thick, black bellowing smoke emanating from the scene gave way to the fear of a house fire and now had me wondering which business was going up. Black smoke is only produced something toxic, hazardous, chemical based, or product based is burning, oil usually. Tires, tires is what was stored in this building and tires will cause black smoke when burning, well rubber and plastic for that matter. Pulling into almost complete visibility, there were dozens of cars parked all over the street. Blocked off by the police, the cars were placed there by the onlookers that flocked towards the scene. Listening to the phone calls, people talking, and the general discussion, a good majority of the people there were employees of the business. Some were making calls in haste to warn people, joke with people, or to inform someone that their job loss was going to affect them in some sort of way. It was very sad to hear these stories as I splashed through puddles and stepped over hoses to make my way onto the scene. I began looking for "the spot," as I call it. That one pivotal place that will guarantee me the shots. The logistics of trees, buildings, and surrounding structures made it hard for me to find my place. But, I did. It wasnt easy, but after a few moments of searching, I ran down the side of a building and came right into view of the towering plume of smoke and flames. I began shooting, moving, shooting, taking position, and documenting what was happening. As I maneuvered around, a firefighter spotted me and yelled for my attention. He motioned for me to get out of the area. He meant it by the speed of his gesture and the tone of his voice. I complied and moved to the side. My phone rang again, it was the friend who called me. After a quick conversation and some confusion, we found each other. I brought him back to where I was standing and we began to both document the tragedy. A brief interaction with the Incident Commander and we were asked to step aside. By that point, I had what I needed and the most I could get now would be if the building took a turn for the worse and erupted in a display of debris and flames. Westover Firefighters were there assisting in the controlling of the blaze. It however was a total loss. The best that could be done would be to contain it and hope that nothing gave way and blew up. Out of fear of this, the state police began to control the crowd and push the onlookers away, which included me, twice.

No two fires are the same. There are always variables to account for, and with in reason, I keep a distance safe enough to be able to capture the action. I have been to numerous scenes and know my limits. Often times shooting for the media allows me to get close enough, but this time safety was put first. Below are some images I captured while on scene. Again, Chicopee was there working damn hard like they always do.


If you have already read the above section, that was a few hours before I had returned to see what the conditions of the blaze were like. It was dreadfully cold out. I stood next to another media photographer, in front of three news crews there to capture the post traumatic action. We discussed the scene and a few other things. After the news crews were doing interviewing the Incident Commander, he made his way over to us and invited us to come into the action take a closer position. I spent the next 40 or so minutes walking around documenting action as it took place. By this time the flames had been very well suppressed between water and foam, the firefighters really had the blaze controlled. Below are a photos I captured.

Copyright Jeffrey Byrnes

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Passing

A few images that show the presence of people through their absence.