Wildland Firefighters - Payson FD

In October I headed up to Payson, AZ. to take some portraits of Payson's police officers and firefighters. This particular shoot was scheduled nearly a year in advance, so while I was up there I decided to schedule a small 'add-on' shoot after we finished up the portraits we needed to do.

I have been wanting a portrait of a wildland firefighter for my 'People at Work' project, and a large part of Payson FD's duties are responding to brush/wildland situations. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. I was in contact with one of Payson FD's battalion chiefs for the coordination/logistics of the portrait photoshoot, so I pitched my wildland idea to him and he was completely sold on it.

Originally we wanted to lay down real fire, but the USFS would have to sign off on that. It's common that wildland firefighters do burnouts to clear out dry underbrush from forests, so it wasn't a crazy request, however, given AZ's last summer fire season, there was no way to know if they'd go for it or not. As it turned out, the weren't comfortable with laying down real fire, so we planned on smoke machines for the context instead.

While setting up for the shoot, we actually ran power cords and set up three smoke machines under a bush in the forest. We topped off the smoke fluid, and taped the release buttons down to keep the machines constantly emitting the smoke. I was nervous, initially, that the smoke wouldn't be nearly enough for our set, and I cringed with every slight breeze that came through, but the volume ended up being quite sufficient.

For the actual shooting, I set up a handful of lights hidden in bushes and trees to compliment the actual scenarios we were going to recreate and photograph. The firefighters would go through their standard procedures for each scenario at a slower than typical pace while I framed and captured each shot.

I think we ended up shooting this wildland piece for an hour or so, and I have a few favorite frames from the set. I'm a little disappointed we couldn't lay down real fire, but I'm already working on that for next near.



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