Fire Photographer Spotlight: Bob Bartosz

Fire photographers have been instrumental in capturing how firefighters operate, mainting a visual record of firefighting operations over time and allowing training lessons to be drawn from fire scenes that would otherwise be inaccessible to readers.

As the premier training journal of the fire service, Fire Engineering has had many striking fire scene photos grace its covers over the years, and in some cases fire photographers whose pics were featured in the magazine in the 20th century are still active with Fire Engineering to this day.

Take the example of Bob Bartosz, who just the other day captured dramatic photos of a rescue made by firefighter in Nash County, North Carolina. Bob was active in the Philadelphia area for many years, and his photographs were featured on Fire Engineering covers a number of times in 1960s and ’70s. Below we offer you a sample of some of Bob’s covers from the Fire Engineering archive.

“With all the big fires in Philadelphia and South Jersey, I could not keep up with them,” Bartosz said.

Fire Engineering Cover: September 1979

This photo was at a one-alarm in Philadelphia. “I saw Ladder 7 mascot Willie grading the truck with his firefighters working on the roof,” Bartosz said. ” I just had to take  a photo of that. About two weeks later Willie was killed trying to get on the ladder while they were leaving on a box alarm…very sad day for them.”

Bartosz took the second photo while he and other firefighters from New Jersey were buffing in Baltimore.

Says Bob: “We were staying in the hotel across from the new fire department super station. At about 5 a.m. we could hear them going out. We turned on the fire radio when the battalion chief called in to report that he had a working fire at the Playboy Club and requested the sixth alarm. He went from the first to the sixth. That put over 24 engine and four or five ladder companies–plus the extra equipment–on the street at the same time. We were about to or thee blocks away and ran all the way. Engines coming from all directions.”

Fire Service Catalog: Bob Bartosz

This photo comes from a pier fire in Philadelphia, in which pier 27 was fully involved. “All three fire boats working to save the piers on both sides,” Bartosz said. “Then both of them would burn a few months later.”

Fire Engineering Cover: May 1973

The above photo was from another three-alarm Philadelphia fire. “Most all the big fires were at night,” said Bartosz. “That was good for the black and white film we all use back then.”

Fire Engineering cover, August 1980

The above shot is from a big chemical yard fire at the J.C. Osborn Co. in Pennsauken, New Jersey. “I was a firefighter with Pennsauken Station 2,” Bartosz said. “Back then were we first in. It burned all night and most of the next day. I ran out of film that day–both color and black and white. Seven firefighter were hurt, and in the last 35 years about six or more people at the fire have died, including three firefighters and one police officer.”

Fire Engineering cover, July 1967

This photo was from a fire in a big paint company in Camden, New Jersey. Fire was in the building plus in the yard, and there were many 50 gallon drums. “I was with the hose guys working their way in when the drums went,” Bartosz recalled. “I though were were all gone. Thank God for that one. That was number four or five of my nine cat lives; I think i;m on number 15 now. Thanks, God.”

Bob in 1954
Bob in 1954
Bob in 1992
Bob in 1992
Bob in 2014
Bob in 2014

Bob started out in June of 1954 when he was appointed as the Camden County (NJ) Fire Photographer. A few years later, Bob was also appointed Official  Fire Photographer for the Camden City  (NJ) Fire Department and retired from both in 2009. He moved to North Carolina, but was soon taking photos for the Rocky Mount (NC) City fire department as well as Nash County.




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