Scott Miller, 42, a former Compton fire captain, is still drawn to the scene of a fire despite an on-the-job career-ending injury. This time he does it with camera in hand--and he’s not alone.
Miller is vice president of the 27-member California Fire Photographers Assn. “Something about the spectacle, excitement and action at a fire scene draws crowds of spectators,” he says. “In the fire service, we call it ‘organized chaos,’ the hose lines all over the street, orders being shouted, ladders being raised. Since man discovered fire, there has been fascination with it.”
The group was conceived at a Burbank fire in 1989, says founding member and current president Ross A. Benson, 48, whose day job is at a lighting and production company. Members range from firefighters, law enforcement officers and journalists to a retired schoolteacher. All are published photographers, a prerequisite to joining. The group shows its work, holds contests, and maintains a website, www.cfpafirephoto.org, and uses radios and pagers to alert each other about fires in progress. There are specialists even within this niche field. “Some guys go to brush fires. Some guys shoot the apparatus,” says Benson, who cites two big changes over the years: more digital cameras and fewer fires. “With prevention, alarms, sprinklers, you get a lot less fires.”
No worries for this crowd. Fire photographers tend to take an interest in other “emergency incidents.” As Benson puts it, “Earthquakes, riots . . . while most people are home tending to their family, we’re out shooting the disaster.”