Chicago area fire photographer Erick Haak submitted the following account of his beginning as a fire photographer.
In honor of the opening of this great endeavor, I thought I would share some of my first pictures and a short tale about how I became interested in fire photography.
In the winter of 2006, I had become bored with my usual routine and decided that I wanted to do something different. As a middle school teacher, I occasionally found myself with a lot of time on my hands. So that December, I decided I would take my interest in photography and begin doing a photo study about all of the fire stations in the city of Chicago. I had no clue what I was doing. I knew nothing about the fire department and had to look up each house on a map and do a few a day. I was the kind of person who would have easily called an engine a “fire truck”. I didn’t own a scanner and didn’t know much about the north side of the city.
On the day after Christmas, I headed out to add a few houses to the ones I had already shot earlier that month. I had six stations that I was going to make it to that day, and Engine 14 was the last on my list. I arrived at their quarters just after noon and as I began to snap off a few photos, the doors opened up and the lights of Engine 14 and Truck 19 went on. At the time I didn’t know that companies routinely went on ambulance assists and box checks and the rest of the daily grind. I thought immediately that they must be going to a fire!
I ran to my car and began heading down Chicago Avenue. I could see the lights up ahead in the distance but they had gained a lot on me and I was hoping I wouldn’t lose them. I had no idea where they were going. As I sat through a few red lights I realized that they had stopped a few blocks ahead. At first, I wasn’t sure if there was a fire as the smoke conditions in the front of the building weren’t much. The second photo of Truck 19 raising their aerial is what I saw as I approached and you can see there was a little smoke showing from the front door of a pizza place.
I ran around the back to the alley and found that the seat of the fire was in the kitchen. There was a wood frame addition in the rear of the 2-story ordinary which housed supplies and the fire was quickly spreading to this addition. The cook of the restaurant hesitated calling the fire department when he had tried to contain a flash over on his own.
The fire would eventually be boxed and the rest of the story you can see in the pictures. The fire consumed the back portion and pushed through the roof. Eventually companies took position next door to get a better vantage point. The 12th battalion chief can be seen in the last photo checking on conditions as these companies hit the fire from above. I think I went out and bought a scanner the next day. I had no idea how hard it would be to get in this position again! Being on scene as the first due companies are stretching can be a tough task and I have been pursuing that scenario ever since.