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FDNY UNITS / Photo Unit / Images of Heroes

Tower Ladder operating at WTCPart II (continued)

by Donna Rogers
Reprinted with permission from
Photographics Processing Magazine-Nov. 2001

Role of the Photographer
The Photo Unit, which falls under the auspices of the FDNY’s deputy commissioner of Public Information, has five members—three firefighters, an EMT and a lieutenant. It is the photographic counterpart to FDNY’s AV Unit, which shoots video. The Photo Unit also supports the fire marshals, who serve as the crime scene unit of the fire department. Leavy explains that its central mission is to document the fire department—its work and its history. This means photographing equipment, like trucks and uniforms, as well as the dedicated workers who don the uniforms every day and the fires they fight.

The inception of the unit came in the 1940s. Founded by former combat photographers of World War II, the veterans knew the need for documenting the work of the fire department which is, in fact, a paramilitary organization. Substantiating fires and special events with photographic images has been a tradition at the city fire department ever since.

Probies lining up at the 'Rock.'FDNY photographers shoot dedications and memorials, public affairs with dignitaries, and take portraits of fire officials when they advance a rank. The staff of the Photo Unit develop, archive and print all film for the department, including that of arson and homicide crime scenes taken by the marshals. Their images support legal cases brought by fire inspectors who find violations like building overcrowding or overstocked retail outlets. They document major accidents and sometimes record the type of materials used in new construction as a precaution in the event of a fire at the location. Much of their work is used for training purposes. Principally, though, they respond to major fires 24 hours a day throughout the five boroughs of New York.

Their images often accompany articles on tactics and training written by FDNY brass. These include in-house publications like WNYF (With New York Firefighters), a quarterly publication with a circulation that reaches fire service officials around the country, as well as the commissioner’s monthly newsletter.

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All photographs taken by the FDNY Photo Unit
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