How do you make a hero out of a truck?
That was the question I was forced to ponder when I was hired by Pierce Manufacturing to photograph Fire Station One in Cambridge, Massachussetts last year.
The story was simple. The department was taking delivery of a brand-new fire rescue apparatus, built by Pierce, and the company wanted images that captured scenes of daily life at the station and in the surrounding community. They also wanted to showcase the gleaming hulk of steel and chrome on wheels that the department had just purchased.
I contacted the chief, Gerry Reardon, and explained that I wanted to follow his guys around for the better part of a day. Oh—and can I borrow your truck for a couple hours and potentially tie up traffic next to the station? He mentioned something non-commital like, “we’ll see what we can do,” and we made plans to meet on the appointed day.
Then came the inevitable wrench in the works that always seems to happen when shooting on location. When I arrived, the firehouse was largely empty. The apparatus was nowhere to be found. Later we discovered it was parked across town, turning up just before we were slated to shoot. The chief was amenable to a portrait, but he wasn’t as receptive to portraits or photos of the crew. “They said you just needed photos of the truck,” he pointed out, not unkindly.
Somtimes you need to try a different tack. So I hastily revised my plans and beat a retreat to nearby Harvard campus. I photographed some of the more iconic views around the area and came back to the station just when the light was getting good. Late afternoon.
The crew had appeared, and the chief soon arrived with the new firetruck. Gleaming and gigantic, it looked too large for the small apron of asphalt in front of the station, bordered on both sides by busy roadways. I convinced them to take us to a nearby park for some daylight photos of the truck. When we returned, the sun was on its way to bed and it was time to set up for the shoot. While that was happening, I heard the strains of a bagpipe wafting out above the traffic, floating over Harvard University, located just across the street. It took me a minute to realize that one of the firefighters was upstairs on a balcony, playing to the setting sun. Not waiting to ask permission, I ran upstairs, through the living quarters to the balcony, and got a few frames before he finished.
Back downstairs, we had time to set up the truck on the entry ramp to the station. It blocked almost all of the truck bays. With busy roadways full of traffic and bicycles on either side, we set up eleven different lights, in and around the firetruck, and once the sun went down we made that truck look like a hero.
I love the final image of the apparatus, but my favorite shot from the evening was the stolen moment of the firefighter playing bagpipes into the evening. One day, one evening, two heros.