They get photos by accident

Fire, rescue volunteers capture images from scene

Fire, rescue volunteers capture images from scene

October 10, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM


Last month, a group of 21 people in Washington County took a combined 1,700 pictures.

But these aren't the type of shots they proudly display in photo albums or picture frames. Many of the images are of the kind of scenes from which most people would turn away.

Pictures of car crashes, fires, hazardous spills and other emergencies are what the Washington County Volunteer Fire &Rescue Association Photo Team boasts about.

"Did you see the new issue? It was nice," said Bryan Stallings, chairman 2nd assistant, referring to an issue of "Maryland Fire Dispatch."


The team makes regular contributions to the publication with pictures and short vignettes about Washington County emergencies.

Members document incidents throughout the county for records, the fire marshal, training and publications while also working as volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, Chairman William King said.

Volunteers have taken photos for the team since its launch in 1992, Stallings said.

"It would start up and then die off," he said. "So many (of the photographers) are active with so many other things."

For more than a year, King said the team has cultivated a group of very dedicated photographers who are interested in learning, contributing and getting the "good shots."

Good shots are the action shots, like a firefighter putting out a fire or an EMT cutting open a car to free a patient, he said.

King is pleased when more than one photographer shows up at the same emergency, allowing for several angles and better pictures.

When the team first formed, volunteers arrived, took some pictures and went home, King said.

Now, the duties are more time-consuming. The team is taking on more responsibility and has become an asset for the local fire and rescue community. Photos are stored and used for insurance claims and training, King said. The local fire marshal requests photos regularly for use in investigations.

King said he might be called to testify in court about some photos he took of a fire that is being investigated as an arson.

"If we get there early to an incident, the fire marshal is extremely happy," he said. "We get there as quickly and safely as possible."

King said he asks his photographers to take pictures of crowds that might form to watch a fire burn, knowing that a suspect might return to the scene of the crime if the fire was started intentionally.

Team photos also have been used for an advertising campaign about traffic safety in Garrett County, Md.

Terry Sigler, chairman 1st assistant, said Washington County pictures used to make it into "Maryland Fire Dispatch" intermittently. But with the steady stream of quality pictures the volunteers have taken over the past year, the publication dedicated one page to Washington County incidents.

There have been at least eight pictures submitted by the photo team in every issue this year.

Along with its Web site - - the team also submits photos and detailed articles to

"It is really hard to get stuff on there," King said, holding a Web site printout of a story and picture he recently had published on the site.

The team averages about three submissions to the site each month.

He said the team might field as many as six phone calls with picture requests each day, and while its members are often overwhelmed filling requests, it is a sign the team is needed and trusted.

The group has taken at least 7,000 pictures this year of more than 200 emergencies and special events, he said.

"People know we're out there," King said.

Their recently increased presence is due to the motivation of the photographers. A Clear Spring photographer called "the squirrel" arrives at emergencies with a camera often before anyone else.

When they arrive, Sigler said some emergency personnel are not always happy to see them. By taking pictures of an accident scene, they also are taking pictures of the actions of personnel who might not be performing a task the right way, he said.

"Some are afraid of what might happen," King said.

Photographer Tammie Patrick said that shouldn't influence the opinion of the photo team.

"We're not here to get people in trouble," she said. "We're just there to take good pictures."

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