Properly employed, photographs can assist fire chiefs achieve more effective operations,


Knocking down flames with hose stream to allow raising of ladders in early stage of fire (Photo 1)With flames knocked down, firemen can carry booster line up the ladders for close-in attack (Photo 2)

PHOTOGRAPHY until recently, has not been used to any great extent by fire departments, except in some of the large communities. Today, however, photography is gaining importance in fire department thinking across the nation and many fire chiefs are availing themselves to this tool which can provide valuable assistance.

Photography has been known to most related fields as an adjunct to their educational program and many fine examples of training pictures are available throughout industries, libraries, and schools.

Training uses

Training is one of the most important functions of a fire department since every firemen must know what to do and how to do it. Visual training aids can often assist in teaching fire fighters the proper techniques by displaying tactics employed at actual fires. Slides are one of the best ways of obtaining information on fires. A simple 2×2 camera can record an accurate description of any fire forever. Or, if a 35mm camera is available, it can be used with color film and the slides come back from the finisher already mounted for immediate projection. Projectors now on the market do not require special mounting of slides in glass or aluminum holders. In addition, black and white enlarged prints can be made from the same color film for display purposes.

Some of the accompanying photographs, made from slides, demonstrate how simple record pictures taken at the time of a severe fire can prove valuable for training later on. The slides can also serve in many other ways as well—to give a long-term record of damage, intensity of the fire and of general character.

Pictures also provide an effective visual means of describing the value of protecting a ladder crew. In Photo No. 1, note the use of hose stream to knock down the flames above the ladders being raised. Photo No. 2 shows the flames knocked down and the firemen carrying line up the ladders.

It is difficult to describe to a group of recruits the intensity of a barn fire. Photo No. 3 dramatically shows this and at the same time depicts how firemen approach a fire of this nature working from the windward side in back of their hose stream to take advantage of every bit of protection provided by the water and the wind.

Investigating arson cases

One of the most serious crimes known is arson and capture of an arsonist sometimes is most difficult. The investigation of each fire cause is of utmost importance and knowledge regarding causes, implemented with photographs, can be of great assistance in such work.

Thorough examination of the scene by trained arson investigators many times leads to legal evidence concerning set fires. Such evidence can best be recorded with the camera, because,

  1. small details can be enlarged;
  2. entire locales can be shown; and
  3. relationship can be depicted. Together, they may be used to piece together the facts.

The difficulty in proving arson, in the absence of any admission by the defendant, is so great that every technical aid available should be brought to bear on the investigation. The choice of photographs can be guided largely by a broad definition of the offense—the willful and malicious burning of property, usually a business building.

The use of photography in arson investigations is sometimes a lengthy operation extending over a period of days. It should begin as soon as possible, with pictures of the fire in progress, and continue through the period of searching for the evidence of planted incendiary materials and other objects which suggest prearrangement. Making photographs during the fire will establish the following:

  1. Area of the origin.
  2. Rapidity, direction, and manner of spread of the fire.
  3. The nature of the burning substances as indicated by the steam, color of the smoke, and the color and size of the flames. (The color of smoke and intensity of flame often indicate whether or not an accelerant was used. For this record, motion pictures should be made on 16mm color film, Type A.)
  4. The progressive stages of the burning shown from various angles as significant changes take place. A time log should be maintained to show when each still photo or movie sequence was taken.
  5. The arrangement of windows and doors.
  6. The identity’ of spectators (often the arsonist will return to the scene to witness the burning) can be recorded on black-and-white film.

Photographs should be made during successive stages of the clearance and search after the fire. Pay particular attention to the details in the burned and charred areas. Black-andwhite film will suffice. Since the areas of interest are blackened and therefore reflect less light, be careful to avoid underexposure. Such scenes usually require two to four times more exposure.

Photograph the building exterior from all sides to identify the structure and to show the damaged areas. Special attention should be given to the doors, windows, and shades. The arsonist may have drawn the shades to conceal his operations, or he may have arranged the doors and windows for the purpose of accelerating the fire.

You should make every effort to photograph important evidence in the building interior before it is disturbed by the firemen’s operations. All items should be photographed carefully, since they relate to the most difficult element of proof, namely, the intent. Some of the things to look for are:

  1. Incendiary devices and materials, such as wires, candles, match books; trailers, excelsior, paper, cloth; gasoline, kerosene, other combustible liquids; and empty containers.
  2. Significant arrangements. Arson for profit is planned with a view to burning special objects or areas, in addition to the objective of general destruction. It is of great importance to photograph any special arrangements that indicate the plan of the arsonist. Representative subjects of photography for this purpose include documents, such as (a) ledgers or business records, purposely exposed to aid their burning; (b) closet doors left open to expose the contents to flames; (c) property’, in closets or elsewhere, which has apparently’ been substituted for more valuable possessions; (d) evidence of other crimes exposed for rapid burning; (e) interior openings, such as fire doors, transoms, and ventilating systems arranged to promote draft; (f) time indicated by electric clocks, to set the time of power failure; (g) protective devices, such as sprinkler systems turned off or their alarms altered to render them ineffective; and (h) tampering with gas pipes, electrical wiring, or electrical apparatus to create a dangerous condition.
  3. Burned areas. Photographs of the burned regions will show damage if you give special attention to the area of apparent origin. Often several separate fires, each near wooden supporting posts are started in one building in the arsonist’s hope that the columns will burn and the floor above fall to conceal the intended burning. These likely areas are often determined easily from information given by witnesses and from a study of the debris. The firemen themselves are your most valuable source for this information.
  4. Overhaul series. The photographer must be on hand to record any evidence which is uncovered during the overhaul and search of the fire scene. Liaison should be established with the firemen assigned to this job so they will watch for clues and summon the photographer to record them.
In taking pictures for possible arson evidence, give special attention to the area of origin near supporting columns in this caseHow firemen approach a hot fire from the windward side and in back of their hose, getting double protection from wind and water (Photo 3)Inspection picture taken by the Fire Prevention Bureau, Louisville, Kentucky

The path of a fire is sometimes followed by observing the intensity of the fire as shown in its effects, such as the charring of uprights. In particular, this path is indicated by the so-called “alligator pattern,” a checked design observable on wood. Cross, or side lighting, will reveal these best in your photographs. At the point of origin, the segments of this pattern are relatively small and the charring is deepest. Photographs should be made of this area. Other shots of the effects of the fire and the reconstruction of its path can be planned from this starting point.

Special attention should be paid to evidence of the use of kerosene, gasoline, or some other combustible liquid as an accelerant. The alligator pattern will be more severe where the liquid has seeped into the wood. It may even be possible to locate a pool of unburned accelerent which has seeped through to a floor below the fire level.

A series of photographs appended to the report is of particular importance in an arson case. To help in locating specific rooms, this series should include a photograph of the entire building. Location of the rooms are then indicated by means of an overlay marked in crayon. A further aid to the understanding of the physical layout is a copy of the builder’s plan. It provides the room measurements throughout the building.

Public relations

The dress uniform of the fireman is an attempt by the fire department to strengthen public relations. The wearer of the uniform wishes the public to know him for what he represents, but is this enough? Public relations should extend far beyond knowing what we represent. We all want the public to know us for what we are, what we do, and why we do it.

Firemen in particular need this type of public relations, perhaps more than other fields. Too frequently, the public’s knowledge of firemen is based on legends of the “old-time” boys who were supposed to sit around playing cards or checkers, waiting for the alarm to ring. The public needs to know: (1) That firemen are trained in their profession; (2) firemen are concerned with prevention as well as protection; (3) about every real good job accomplished; (4) about the fire department’s inspection program; (5) everything about fire departments.

How best can you accomplish this goal? One of the better ways, of course, is effectively and dramatically using your photographs. We all know what television has done for marshals, sheriffs, and police departments. Why shouldn’t some of the public relations value of 16mm pictures and slide presentations show how your firemen protect public property?

Use with Spring Clean-up

Perhaps the best way to start a good effective public relations program is to use 35mm slides in conjunction with the spring clean-up program and the fall fire prevention program. Slide presentations can effectively show how uniformed firemen make home inspections, how they point out the hazardous situations which are the prime causes of fire, and how the fire department personnel meet with civic leaders. These can be used either on television fill-ins or in presentations to service clubs, women’s clubs, PTA s, and to schools. Sixteen or 8mm films can be made on the same subject, showing actually what firemen do.

An informed public will better respect the fire department for what it represents, and what it is. By proper employment, photography can help bring to the people the fire department story.

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