Photography inspiration comes from
these folks with the most humble spine
Video featuring photos and video from Erin Thomas FEATURING Berwick musicians HILTON PARK
please visit www.hiltonparkmusic.comSUPPORT LOCAL!
I have spent the last couple years following Berwick Maine Firefighters with my beat up Nikon d90…
It started innocently enough...I traded a painting for the Nikon a few years back because I decided it was necessary to learn photography to capture better images of my paintings…the typical amateur photographer stuff unfolded...photographs of flowers, visiting birds, fields, mountains, snow storms in Maine…then on to short videos of other artists, and improved images of my kids, etc…but I was never really fully invested in the camera until I started following the first responders.
Almost overnight it turned into a go-bag and a scanner app on my phone, a few visits with the Chief to find out what unwritten rules I needed to know...
(How close could I go without interrupting their work? Can I publish or share photos of victims? Can I walk on private property if it's on fire?)
The tone goes off and my adrenaline pumps and I run towards the firefighters that are running towards someone else's worse day…
and I do it because…
Berwick Firefighters walking into a training scene
I used to be quite sort of certain that I knew what a firefighter does...
they drive loud trucks and aim hoses at fires and give out plastic hats to kids…stop, drop and roll... right?!
Berwick Firefighters break into a car to extract a patient in a car accident
…. I found out very quickly, that I never really understood exactly what it is that a firefighter does on a daily basis.
For instance, before 4 years ago I had no idea that some firefighters were also EMT's….or Paramedics….that they need extensive training and they are exposed to toxins and have higher cancer rates...
or that sometimes, they respond in the middle of the night as a volunteer just to help a disabled person get back into their wheelchair.
….I had no real idea (or rather, I had not thoroughly considered with my frontal lobe) that they pick up our broken and bloodied bodies in tragic moments, or that they hose down roads after a terrible accident, or that they bring overdosed addicts back to life.
I hadn't really reflected on exactly who spends all day looking for that body in the river, or what kind of person climbs a 45 foot ladder with a high powered hose just to keep our family photos from burning.
Somersworth NH firefighters recover a body from the river
… it's always been "someone else" that did these things.
I didn't recognize that years of training can lead up to a split second life-changing rescue, or that every single death they deal with can stick with them for their lifetime…or that they do all of it while some people yell obscenities at them or almost run them over when they are working on a patient in the road.
I didn't realize that most first responders don't get paid enough, and they spend tons of time and money on charity, and many of them have two or three other jobs... they get up at 3am without a complaint to do CPR for an elderly patient... and they still make it to their other jobs and parenting duties at 6am.
I learned that fire departments have low budgets and need costly equipment and that in Maine and New Hampshire, volunteers make up the majority of staff.
I also learned that firefighting is a family thing…your spouse and kids really have to be on board with you, because sickness, fire, death and accidents do not wait until your plate is clear at the dinner table, nor do emergencies wait until after a holiday break.
I found out that they also feel fear, they gross out just as much as I do, they have huge hearts hidden behind steel-calm exteriors and they very often do not feel comfortable being called "hero" … because they are still thinking of someone or something they couldn't save the day before.
….and yes, they do rescue your pets too.
These men and women efficiently and effectively clean up the worst human messes quickly and quietly to keep the rest of us from having to deal with it, allowing us to go about our day undisturbed and let us remain unaware that someone else's arm just got chopped off in a weird chainsaw accident.
How could I possibly go back to photographing just flowers after learning all this? I will do both, for sanity purposes.
A Rochester NH Firefighter wipes sweat from his forehead after a camper burns down in Lebanon Maine
My only hope is that the photographs I am taking reflect the constant awe I feel for these humans that chose first response as a profession (they would say the profession chooses you, it's like being an artist in that way)... and if I can archive and capture these moments so others in my community may understand as well as I now do... and maybe it can lift the responders up in a tiny way….
As long as they continue cleaning up for me so I can continue to be an artist, I will do my best to honor them in the only way I know how, with images.
238 pages(over 350 photos) taken on scene and in training with Berwick Fire Department along with South Berwick, North Berwick and Lebanon Maine, and Somersworth, Rochester and Dover New Hampshire Fire Departments.
The small royalty I receive from book sales will go into a paypal account for camera upkeep, SD cards, as well as allow me to continue to share many of the photos for free on social media
Thank you for your support!
FOR THE ARTISTS AND PHOTOGRAPHY GEEKS: Camera: Nikon D90 Digital SLR
ALL SHOT MANUAL - RAW/JPEG HIGH RES
Lenses: NIKKOR 70-300mm QUANTARAY NIKON AF 28-90
PHOTOS PROCESSES IN PHOTOSHOP CS6