Narcan - Shooting Editorial Content for EMS / Fire / PD

Early June I received an assignment from the senior editor of JEMS magazine. The assignment was to create a set of photos that would illustrate an article appearing in JEMS magazine, and possibly in FireRescue Magazine and Law Officer Magazine as well.

It sounded simple enough based on the brief, photograph the use of naloxone by first responders treating heroin overdoses. I took the assignment. With a week to get this planned, scheduled, shot, edited, and uploaded before the deadline, I dove right in.

The first thing I did was begin researching naloxone (more commonly, Narcan), what is it, how is it used, what does it look like, and I began to see the images in my mind.

Light testing after deciding on the final position of my 'addict'
Step two was to research heroin overdoses. I looked through photos taken of overdose victims, the effects of heroin, how the users typically prepare and use heroin, etc. The key to these types of shoots is detail, noticing the needles, tourniquets, and spoons around the victims was a key to setting the context for the shoots I was creating. The picture continued unfolding in my mind and I had the general idea of how I wanted each set to look.

I decided to break this assignment into three different shoots, one for fire, one for police, one for EMS. The fire and EMS shoots I wasn't too concerned about because I have great relationships with multiple agencies from past shoots and collaborations. The police officer shoot would create some new relationships, so I needed to allow more time in the planning of that set.

I went through my spreadsheet of PIO contacts for every law enforcement agency in Arizona, I didn't have a lot of time on this shoot, so I sent an email to every agency that I felt might be a good fit for the types of locations I had in mind, maybe 25 or 30 different police departments and sheriff offices across the state. I figured I'd go with the first department that got back to me, and in the meantime I scheduled the first shoot with Phoenix Fire.

When shooting Fire/EMS editorials I give the crews a full
scenario to follow, it's much more authentic and gives      
everyone something to do. Eliminating those "I don't know
what to do" stares at the camera while I'm shooting.         
Once Phoenix Fire let me know Squad 8 would be the crew working with me on this shoot, I took my wife into Station 8's coverage area, scouting locations that would fit the context of the shoot. I had narrowed it down to a few locations that seemed promising on Google Earth, and just needed to choose one that best fit the shoot. It was my wife that spotted the alley we actually used, it wasn't on my list but it was the perfect fit. A dirty alley that had leading lines bringing your eyes right into the skyline of downtown Phoenix. Add my heroin OD patient, and some needles, and the context was set.

The first shoot went off without a hitch. As expected, the Phoenix Fire crew was a pleasure to work with. Professional and accommodating, we knocked out the first photo set quickly and with great results. I couldn't wait to continue with the other two sets.

The first few email responses began to trickle in from the police and sheriff PIOs I had contacted, I began to recognize I had a problem. Apparently, unbeknownst to me when I took this shoot, police officers do not administer Narcan, and not only do they not carry it, but there is a bit of an ongoing debate within the public safety community regarding the issue. While there are a few law enforcement agencies in the US that began issuing naloxone kits to officers, none of those departments are in Arizona. The deadline for this shoot didn't allow time to travel either.

I might have an issue with sun/light flare,
I try to work it into almost every shoot. I  
think I may do a post about that.               
I couldn't find a police department that was interested in being associated with the administration of naloxone until they knew which way the wind was going to blow in the debate. I had NO IDEA what I was going to do. I began responding back, telling each department that I could hide any references to their specific department, shoot it as a silhouette, shoot it at night, make it completely generic if I needed to, but still no takers.

Finally, on the day of the deadline, I got a call that a friend of a friend who is the PIO for Paradise Valley Police Department was willing to do it, but he was only available for the next two hours. I called me friend at Rural/Metro to ask for an ambulance and crew to meet us at an abandoned restaurant in Paradise Valley in 45 minutes, and I called my sister to be my last minute heroin addict.

We had no time to make this work, but still needed to. This was my only chance to make it all work before my deadline, I really just needed everything to fall into place.

It didn't.

First, my sister ran out of gas on her way to the shoot location, so I went to pick her up and was gonna be a few minutes late. When I finally arrived, we weren't able to get an ambulance, and found out we didn't have the Narcan we needed. We talked about options to try and salvage this, shooting some things now, some things later if we could, compositing everything to make it work. I made the decision to pull the plug. I was not gonna compromise the quality of the final images to try and 'make something work'.

I called the magazine, I asked them for one more day to ensure the best images possible, then I asked everybody about their availability. The following day was good for everybody, we'd be able to get the narcan we needed and the ambulance and crew we needed. I felt much better about that.

The next day everything fell into place perfectly. The shoot went off without the slightest hiccup and the magazine was very happy with the final images.

This assignment had the most stressful pre-production and planning I've ever experienced, and then when I was up against the deadline without great options I felt a lot of pressure to just give in and submit the best images the circumstances allowed. I think it was a great creative victory to fight the pressure and humbly ask for a deadline extension and not compromise the image quality.

I have never not made my original deadline before, that part is disappointing, but I'm proud of the concept and of the final images. I hope you enjoy them.

Final magazine layouts below:


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