I first began this project as a way to explore more of the area that I have lived in my entire life, and at the same time showcase the firehouses in the community. With a deep respect for the field of firefighting, the primary purpose was to document current firehouse locations in the area, from the different styles of buildings, the vehicles used, and their other unique aspects, as goals in this project. The scope of my work is expanding rapidly, with future plans to include other areas of the state and region, as well as more in depth focus on individuals within the firehouses.
The Beginnings of An Idea
May 20, 2014
I have been saying to friends and family for a couple of months now that I really want to get back into shooting photos, putting myself behind the camera is where I am truly content, rather than in front of the camera. I have decided on a project for the summer, however I think I am being ambitious by stating it is a "summer project", as I know it will take me into the fall to complete it.
I have a true admiration and appreciation for those who place themselves on the line every day when they go to work, never knowing what a call will bring them. My appreciation has grown exponentially stronger in the last decade or so of course. The horrific events of the Worcester warehouse fire, where six lives were lost, the events on 9/11, where we lost three hundred and forty three, and most recently, the Boston brownstone fire, where we lost two firefighters, bring home to me the importance and perils that the job entails.
My project seemed simple in the beginning planning stages, simply to photograph all the firehouses in Western Massachusetts. I thought it would be great to put it into a book format, with the idea of giving a copy to my young nephew, aged 2, who thinks that all trucks, especially fire trucks, are in his words "Awesome!". As I talked about the project with a few close friends though, immediately questions came up as to how detailed or specific the parameters should be. Should I photograph only those "active" firehouses? How many should I represent from each town? Some towns in the area are obviously smaller, with one firehouse, but some of the larger cities, such as Springfield, have multiple firehouses. But then the bigger question arose, one that would also require some in-depth research, do I photograph those firehouses that have been repurposed into other uses? Many of the older firehouses in the area have been "decommissioned" or sold, and are now homes and businesses. What to do about this? More importantly, should the photos themselves just be of the firehouses or the people who live and work in them on a daily basis? How can I properly document firehouses without including those who serve them? These are all questions that I have struggled with for the past month or so, and realizing that this project is getting even more detailed than I originally wanted it to be is overwhelming. However, I finally came to some conclusions.
I need to photograph every active firehouse in every town. This is non negotiable. It would not be right or a true accounting to exclude some firehouses in the larger cities where there are multiple locations. If possible, I need to photograph those working in them as well. It would be great to be able to get photos from the top commands to the probies of the houses, but the reality of the situation is, fires happen, and there are no guarantees that they will actually be at the firehouse when I am there. Of course, I need to shoot the trucks in the firehouses, if only to keep this interesting to my nephew! I won't search out those firehouses that have been decommissioned, but if I happen to come across them in my travels, so be it. I'm sure some of the veterans of the firehouses know those previous locations in their towns, if I get any leads, I will act on them, otherwise, its another project to work on after this one is completed.
I am getting excited about this new journey. As I go, I will update and post photos online here so that this project can be shared.
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Deborah Kowal is a life-long resident of Western Mass, currently adjunct faculty teaching psychology at American International College in Springfield, and as a Security Specialist at Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton. Annual participant of local Relay for Life event as a member of Team Northampton Firefighters, writer and photography enthusiast, local runner and avid reader.
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