December 16, 2004
"Over 135 firefighters and 29 fire companies, from 13 communities, battled a 4-alarm blaze at the vacant American Bosch Factory, straddling the line of Springfield and Chicopee Massachusetts"
This was the subtitle from a local newspaper the following day of the American Bosch fire. Yes, it had all the information a subtitle should have, but did it really do justice?
I was there... it was my first time ever covering a large scale fire incident... and, not even close.
In 2004 my week consisted of working in a restaurant 60 hours a week, fire training every Thursday night, and responding to small emergencies occasionally during the overnight. I read about big fires online, saw the pictures and wondered what a 4-alarm fire looked like in person... just to be completely immersed in it... what it felt like.
On December 16, 2004, I remember listening to Springfield Fire on the scanner, seeing the reports coming-in live from the local media and thinking to myself, this fire will be historic. I felt compelled to document it and did the only thing I could... go and take photographs. My wife and I were already doing this for our department... we had the gear and some know-how, and I thought, i'm going to do this. As a fairly new volunteer firefighter I did the ultimate no-no and skipped drill (sorry Bill), because I felt this had a real importance. The importance I felt then was for the size of the actual fire and the historic building that was going to be lost. Only later would I discover what I really liked to photograph and why. And, as I type this, I vaguely remember calling the station and telling them where I was, and what I was doing, all excited like... not something you should do while everyone is there sweating it out, practicing blind room searches, while you're out galavanting taking pictures somewhere.
Arriving on the fire ground I was waved in by firefighters and my eyes couldn't take it all in, I was in such awe. The size of the fire, how many pieces of apparatus and firefighters, police, EMS and DPW workers that were on scene. It was the very first time I saw more than 4 ladders in operation... to this day I really don't think I took a single image for the first 15 minutes.
By the time I arrived the fire was massive and it lit the sky with an orange glow for miles. It was a surround and drown operation, with protecting nearby exposures. The sound of diesel engines, radios, hydraulics, people yelling, K12 saws cutting, barrels popping, and the occasional explosion were deafening.
It was organized chaos.
The fire that day changed me in a lot of ways. It sculpted the way I take photos and why I take them. Instead of the big fire images I thought I wanted to shoot, it actually created more of an urgency in me to show the public what firefighters do every day and what a critical job they actually do. I also learned the importance of mutual aid, town and city staffing, communications, and working together in unison, as a team.
Ironically, long after the fire was over, I had visited my grandparents, had lunch, and in our usual chat had mentioned the Bosch fire. My grandmother, now 96, told me she had worked there while my grandfather served in World War II. From what I understood it was very hard job and very hot on the factory floor. She had a lot of history there. Although she didn't shed a tear, I could see in some way she was saddened by it all. My gut feeling was right, the fire was historic, in so many ways, and at the time I didn't even know it.
You know, my wife and I have seen and experienced some pretty crazy things during our time with FIREGROUND360°. We have met and worked with some amazing people. We feel blessed to be working in this field and know enough about it to actually do some sort of good.
Paula and I dedicate this first 360° Blog to all those amazing people out there, you know who you are.
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