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 FDNYs
deputy commissioner of Public Information, has five membersthree
firefighters, an EMT and a lieutenant. It is the photographic
counterpart to FDNYs 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 departmentits 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.
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 commissioners monthly newsletter.
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3 - Ground Zero
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All photographs taken by the FDNY Photo Unit
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