I am the Official Volunteer Photograper for my local fire department.  I am on my second year of doing this and am busy at times doing this between events or calls.  What I am wondering is how many of you or your departments have a photographer(s) and what do you do or your department do as far as how you do this or the call responses.  What kind of access do you have on scenes.  Any problems encountered.  All positive feedback welcome.  Thank You.

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So to clarify what you are asking her Ron...

1. Does your department have a dedicated fire photographer?

2. How does your department handle call responses for the department sanctioned fire photographer?

3. What kind of access does your departments' fire photographer have at an incident?

4. What kind(s) of problems has your departments fire photographer encountered?

1. We used to have a dedicated fire photographer but it got to be a goat rope with who actually owned the photographs, hurt feelings and one individual controlling the kinds of photographs taken. Eventually, his position was eliminated and the custom darkroom went bye bye. Now, several years later, and with everyone having a cell phone / camera with them, getting photos of incidents sent in by the public is a given. Additionally, the world of computers and photoshop is alive and well with most high school kids now. The ability to produce fine photography has been made available now to the common man.

2. When we did have our own dedicated photographer, he was issued a department vehicle and was allowed to respond to incidents for the purposes of photo documentation. Again, everyone has a camera, and this includes our engine company folks, not to mention the news media. When our guys run calls and take photographs, they are forwarded directly to the PIO, who also has a camera...

3. Access for any uniformed firefighter is unlimited. Couple taking pictures as part of the arson investigation... don't need one person dedicated when digital cameras now take awesome point and click photography.

4. Having only one person take pictures leads to a power trip sometimes. Give a camera to every engine company, and in this digital world, where everyone has a camera, the needs will be easily fulfilled. Unless your department is totally bucks up fiscally, having a dedicated fire photographer is an expense that we had to do away with. 

This does not discount folks out there who volunteer their time and resources. They often times are the heart and soul of getting the public educated and informed through visual media. There is a place but with money being as tight as it is, it is not uncommon for the position of Fire Photographer to be considered a luxury.


We have had a couple of volunteer Photographers who have a pager and drive to the larger fires to "photo document" the scene. They aren't paid, but they get access "beyond the yellow tape" and wear turnouts and a helmet, but must remain outside of the collapse zone and out of the way of operations.

They own the photos, but the department has an unlimited license to use them, and if there's an investigation, they are often used in that as well. The Photog isn't really there as an investigator, because as Capt Busy noted everyone has a good digital camera nowadays. However if you want well-framed, dramatic action shots of your firefighters at work, nothing beats having a trained photographer who can get up close while they are engaged in Firefighting operations.


If you're thinking of allowing someone who isn't already a Firefighter to be an "Authorized Photographer," I would recommend they have at Volunteer Firefighter certification for your state before they are permitted on the Fireground during real-world operations so they understand what everyone is doing and why and can a) stay more safely out of the way, and b) get better photographs. They really are an asset on large incidents, where the public isn't clsoe enough to use cellphone cameras and everyone else is too busy doing there jobs to take pictures.



We have a couple guys who like to farkle, chase their scanner, and take pics of scenes when they are off duty. Since they are on the job, they are known by dept members and have no problem getting on scenes. Since they do this on their off time they own the pictures and both post them on Smugmug. They also have a relationship with the local paper and have obtained many pictures that ended up for news stories. The pics are in good taste and don't interfere with patient care, etc. They aren't there for a news story, but instead to record the events.


They have done a really good job of recording some of the events encountered and their pics have been relied upon for several presentations we have done etc. Also, the use of cameras by duty personnel was stopped, this was to keep FFs focused on their job, rather than taking pics and it is something I agree with.


Although since the are doing this off-duty, it has come back to bite in the ass for a couple guys. We had a large fire downtown last year that some off duty guys showed up to. The Asst Chief spotted them in the crowd and they were ordered in to work.

We have one, she is also the Dept. Secretary. I'm just the new guy at my Dept. A volunteer, but as I understood it as it was explained to me was the she is the only one authorized to take the pictures for the dept. The rest of us have been told to not use our camera phones.  Our local news media is very critical of us, they don't always tell it like it really is. One snapshot taken and used without authorization could be more damaging than a house that's fully involved. My personal lesson learned is that even having my phone with me is just additional clutter and something that can easily be lost while at an incident . We were not told to not bring it, but it's one less thing to worry about while at an incident.  Whoever needs to call me can wait till I get back.  Besides, she has the good camera  anyway.
If your doing this for your dept only, the Chief or Commissioners should set the boundaries. If your looking to do this for other companies town wide, your going to wanna got to the town Chiefs meeting, if they have one. Otherwise on training nights, go and introduce your self to the Chiefs. Let them know what your doing, if they are interested, and that they get to pick what goes online. But I all so suggest letting them know you are the owner of the pictures and are subject to copy right.
Any person can, and will take pictures of a fire call. You have no say on how, when, where or why they use it. "Freedom of Speech." The First Amendment. News and civilians can take pictures and audio of any fire call that comes along. If you try to stop them and they know their laws.... you could actually be arrested for censorship or what ever your state calls the act in the penal code.
The secretary has found a way to have job security... And have autonomy for all photos. So much for having more than one viewpoint. It's not beneficial to control the department using nonsensical scare tactics like the media, bla, bla, bla...
Sounds like bridges need to be mended with your local media and you need to distribute the "power" for who gets to take photos. What a slap in the face to your company officers. Not having a way to photo document what you first saw on a suspicious fire for example... Vehicles, people watching, all great things for training and investigations or in other words, for official fire department business.
Perhaps your chief should attempt to cultivate a relationship with the firefighters instead of your secretary. Ridiculous decisions usually stem from someone with an agenda... Am I wrong here?

Like I said, I'm just the new guy. It's not my place to question what is established, just do as I'm told. From what I saw out on a call vs. trying to exercise my First Amendment rights, I'm going to pick safety over speech any day.  I feel that choosing safety over speech is not only prudent but that it supersedes it.  The people that we're there to protect are better served by an able fireman than one messing around with a camera.  I almost lost my cell phone with a camera on my very first run. (found it in the wagon under the EMS bag) Our community is large, we have 10 stations spanning 2 different agencies, serving 175,000 people.  We have several different chiefs (deputies and Assistants)  and each of them take the time to get to know their crews by name. The head chief of our Dept. took the time to get me fitted for my turn out gear.  I think very highly of all of them. 

  As a citizen, I would not want my fireman messing around with a camera when there is people and property to save. Am I wrong, doesn't that take precedence? 

No I whole heartily agree. When your on a call, work. If your "buffing" someone else's call, have at it. But if your doing this for your dept, do as they say.
Cap, your dead on. And Ron, Capt is very insightful. Very beneficial to hear him out or pick his brain!

Oh...another documentation tool that we use is dash-cams on our Officers Vehicles (read Chief and the Inspector vehicles). When they arrive on scene, they position their vehicle so the front is towrds the indecent, aim the camera on its swivel mount if necessary, and hit Record. Each camera can record several hours of video and if all three vehicles are recording from different angles it is great for After-Action Reviews. Just remember to turn on the windshield wipers if it's raining!



Greenman and all others who have responded, thank you.  Jason, I think you are not reading my question right.  What I am trying to ask is: 1. Does your department have a person who is just the photographer (Volunteer or Paid) 2. How does you deptartment have the photographer respond (dept. issued pager or radio, or their own scanner of pager)  3.What kind of access does the photographer have on the scenes  4. Has the photographer had any problems on the scene as far as irate people or underinformed law enforcement 5. How are the problems resolved.


Thank you all again and lets hope this helped to clairify my question, I am sorry if it was poorly worded before.

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