Fire Photographer Spotlight: Steve Redick

Longtime Chicagoland fire photographer Steve Redick has been sharing his work for years, including in the pages and posts of Fire Engineering. As part of our series on some of the nation’s most dedicated fire photographers, we’ve asked Steve a few questions about his passion and photographing fires in the Chicago area.

You can see more of Steve’s work at

FE: What got you started in fire photography?

SR: My Dad is a retired Chicago Fire Department (CFD) battalion chief. In his younger days he was always a big buff. I literally grew up listening to the CFD radio. My dad was an avid photographer, ahead of his time really, and shot Kodachrome slides of the usual family stuff, but also a lot of rigs and fires. As I grew older, I began to accompany him to various extra alarms and firehouse trips. Pretty soon he was teaching me how to use his old Argus rangefinder manual camera…and the rest is history.

FE: What kind of equipment do you use?

SR: I prefer Canon gear and now have two camera bodies a 5D Mark2 and a 5D Mark 3  My go-to lens is a 24-70 L series 2.8 zoom. I also use the 600 series Canon flash. I don’t like to carry a lot of gear so I mainly use the 5d Mark 3 and one lens with the shoe mount flash. I have a few other Canon L series zooms but they don’t see much use. I also still own a Metz 60CT flash but that is pretty idle now, too.

FE: What have been some of your more memorable jobs?

One in particular stands out as the photo I didn’t get…I was riding with a busy South Side company and we were first due to a three-story with fire venting vigorously from some third floor windows. I got caught up in helping make the hydrant and stretching the first line that I didn’t get to my camera. What I did not see, and missed shooting, was a person hanging from the third floor window ledge by his extended arms, and another guy hanging on his ankles…the neighbors were dragging mattresses to the ground below to break their fall. I looked right at them but it didn’t register for some reason…it might have bee a prize winner!

One of the largest incidents I can recall was the Polk Brothers warehouse fire in Melrose Park…I was in early and that job pretty much wiped out the whole massive Polk Brothers business. 

I was at an extra alarm with a sudden unexpected collapse that nearly took the lives of several members on Chicago’s busy West Side..I was right there when it happened. Fortunately all survived but it was a terrifying experience to witness.

The GD Searle and Company Chemical fire in Skokie in the ’70s was pretty amazing with all the fireballs and explosions..55 gallon drums flying around like rockets…

The Detroit Devil’s Nights of the 1980s were amazing to observe as well…I could go on for a long time about memorable jobs but there’s a few anyway.

FE: What’s unique about taking pics in the Chicago area?

SR: The unique part about Chicago is that it has just about every kind of department and hazard in the metro area. Weather extremes are the norm. Busy transportation corridors run through and we have lots of air and rail activity as well. Chicago is a unique Midwestern city with a very deep and rich firefighting history. Many methods and traditions still endure even into this modern age.

FE: What have been some of your more memorable publications?

SR: My most memorable published photos are always the covers.. I have been fortunate enough to have my work featured several times on most of the major periodicals and it’s always a thrill. I really think that the most satisfying aspect of any of my published work is that the idea of an injury or death being prevented by someone who learned from an article or class that used my images as a teaching point.

FE: Any advice to aspiring fire photogs?

SR: Advice? It’s so different now..everyone with a cell is a photojournalist. Many post things to Facebook or Youtube with no regard as to how it makes a department or individual appear to the general public. Consider who will see your work and how it may affect those depicted in the image. With the advent of modern optics and high ISO gear, we don’t need to be so close to the scene as to be on top of the members operating. Respect what they are doing and give them plenty of space. Ideally they shouldn’t even know you are there.


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