Going to the Boston Marathon is like going to Disney. Everyone is smiling and laughing except maybe the runners till they cool down. I am not going to let the sad events surrounding the 117th running of the Boston Marathon take away from the wonderful memories I have of covering it since 1967.
At the Boston Record American it was huge. There were a lot of photographers assigned. In 1967 women were not allowed to run, nor was there a wheelchair-sanctioned race. The crowds and amount of runners paled to what it has become today.
We covered the beginning, the Wellesley College coeds at their water tables, Heartbreak Hill in Newton, the finish line and the medical tent. One photographer was assigned to the photographer’s truck, which was usually a beat up flat bed truck. At least once the photographers had to get off the truck and push it out of the way. Many runners complained about the fumes from the truck. I never got that assignment.
Back then the Prudential Insurance was the sponsor so the race ended on the strip in front of the Prudential Tower. As the race would come down Commonwealth Avenue the runners would take the right on Gloucester Street and the truck would go straight down Commonwealth Avenue. At the finish line there were several photographers. A Boston motorcycle cop, Gene Lee, a great athlete himself would be assigned to grab our film of the finish and race it to our office in downtown Boston. Page One would be a photo of the winner. I worked the lab for my first Marathon.
The wire services set up a darkroom in a school right near the start of the race, which always began at noon. They would have a photo on the wires within ten minutes for the afternoon papers. I worked the lab for my first race. Katherine Switzer a college student registered for the race as K.V. Switzer and got a number. When Jock Semple a BAA race official saw K.V. was a woman he jumped into the start of the race and tried to wrestle her out. Ms. Switzer had put her hair up to disguise herself. Other runners blocked Semple from throwing her out. Don Robinson of UPI was the only photographer to get the shots. That caused quite a bit of grief for our photographer who was on the truck. Back then we did it ourselves. It was not a good thing to see a credit, which read AP or UPI photo. It would be five more years before woman were sanctioned.
My first outside coverage was in 1968. I was assigned to the starting line. I was given a Polaroid Camera, a stepladder, one of the wire services portable transmitters and instructed to find someone who would let me use their home phone to transmit the start of the race. I would only have one chance to get the photo, as Polaroid’s were not fast. I did get it and it was Page One.
I also had to get some feature photos of runners and bring back some stories to go with the photos. It was a lot of fun. I helped people taking photos of each other sometimes grabbing their cameras to take the photos so both the shooter and subject could be together. One year I met this couple, both UMass Amherst students who were going to run the race together. They told me they were inseparable. Within a year of the race they would be killed in a car crash. Although they were not married they were buried together. Because of my photos we covered the story.
I covered the finish many times. There was no yellow tape and I could roam wherever I wanted. I was at the finish line when the first wheelchair race was sanctioned. I had a shot of two runners racing for the 3rd & 4th position with one of them falling before he crossed the line.
Patty Lyons Catalano, a local favorite who everyone thought would win the Boston Marathon in 1981 was beaten by Alison Roe. It was unexpected. I was at the finish line when Patty was greeted by her sisters and the disappointment of not winning the race.
In 1982 I went into TV. The Boston Marathon was a huge event back then. We arrived in Hopkinton around 6:am the Sunday before the Monday race with thousands of feet of cable. It was at least a 12-hour day with many cameras being set up. We would be live through the early morning show on Monday, then the start and throughout the race. The only time I got in front of the runners is when I rode shotgun while John Premack ran the camera for live coverage of the race from a small pickup truck.
There were some funny times. Bill Rodgers a local race favorite would win the race four times. I went to his Melrose home one race morning then followed him to Hopkinton. There was a crew from Japan doing the same thing. We were driving west on the Mass Pike when the Japanese crew decided to pull up along side the Rodgers’ car to get shots, only problem Rodger’s car got off the ramp at Route 495 and they ended up going further west missing the exit. It was a very funny moment.
Johnny Kelly the elder who won the race twice and finished second seven times ran his 61st and last race in 1992. I was almost home when the phone rang. Joe Roche on the assignment desk for Channel Five realized at 630:pm we had no one at the finish line for Johnny Kelly. I raced back and got Johnny finishing the race and collapsing into his wife’s arms.
After many years of coverage I got some seniority and took the April school vacation week off to spend time with my family. It meant not covering the race but being able to watch it. We went to Newton, at the beginning of Heart Break Hill where a very festive group was watching.
Forty six years after my first Marathon, April 15, 2013 it all changed. I was sitting at the South Bay Mall at 2:50pm when I heard a Boston Police Officer screaming for multiple ambulances to Boylston Street he had 40–50 people injured.
At first I thought he said 71 Boylston Street which is down by the Boston Common. I figured a moving vehicle hit the people. Then it changed to 671 Boylston Street and I knew it was something to do with the Marathon, but I still thought a vehicle had struck the people.
Then it happened, someone said on one of the channels I was listening to it was an explosion, a bomb went off. I was yelling into the two-way radio to the station and trying to get around traffic through the South End of Boston to the explosion area. I got lucky and got behind some fire command cars and police cruisers. I shut the radios off, as I only wanted to concentrate on getting there safely. I knew we had crews at the medical tent. I figured we would be all set where the explosion took place.
I tried to park where I could see the top of the Prudential Tower where one of our receive sites for microwave was anchored. I knew I might have to feed tape or go live with my vehicle. When I finally parked on the island in the middle of Huntington Avenue I was very excited. I opened the trunk area to get my equipment out, had to change mic batteries as I forgot to shut it off the last time I used it and continued to shake. I knew my daughter Hannah was in Boston, but I also knew she should not be in this area.
Then my cell phone rang, it was Hannah and I lost it. I screamed at her “get the fuck out of the City,” and I said it several times. I was so happy to hear her voice.
I got my shit together and started to shoot video. Many were crying, scared and wondering what to do as the police were urging them to keep moving and get out of the area. I talked to some eyewitnesses, got video of lots of people hugging and crying. I got a shot of one injured runner.
I was never able to get into the explosion area. The police shut it down very quickly. I stayed on Huntington Avenue till 8:pm. I heard a call the police were going to a high-rise apartment building two streets form Revere Beach. There were several police departments there including, FBI, ATF, MSP, Homeland Security. They were there because at the Brigham & Woman’s Hospital there was an injured man who became a person of interest. He lives in this building. Finally after 11:pm the investigators left and I got to go home. At 2:30am the phone rang and I was asked to go back to Revere. There were some Tweets the investigation was continuing. I drove back, looked around, nothing and went home. I got another hour of sleep and went back to work.
Two days after the blast, on Wednesday, Jack Harper and I interviewed one of the “heroes” of the blast Tracy Munroe. She tearfully told us how she and her family left the area right after the blast. Then she knew she had to go back to help and ran back. She saw the Richards’ family. Martin Richards an eight year old was dead at the scene. She picked up his six year old sister, Jane and held her in her arms. She asked her name, said comforting words and held her until medical people came to help her. Jane lost one of her legs and her mother has a severe brain injury from the blast.
As Jack and I listened we both became teary eyed. After the interview I told her she reminded me of the teacher from Newtown, Kaitlin Roid who told her students as she hid them and listened to the gunshots, “I need you to know that I love you all very much, I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I thought we were all going to die.” She said she did not want the last sounds they heard to be gunfire.
Thursday after the explosion was calm until after ten that night. I received a call saying a police officer had been shot near MIT. I called it in and tried to go back to sleep. Just after 1:am, Nancy Bent on the desk called to get me going yelling cops are being shot at, bombs are being thrown and one of the suspects was dead.
I raced to Watertown where I would spend the next 16 hours. There were thousands of cops racing around from one lead to the next. The area was pretty much shut down and with all the vehicles racing around I decided to pull over so I would not get hit by one of them.
Around 4:pm my eyes were starting to close and I went home. My wife Debbie woke me up when the announcement came the second suspect was trapped in a boat in someone’s backyard. We watched until the press conference and the official announcement he had been captured and transferred to the hospital.
As a professional newsperson I am disappointed I did not get any compelling video but happy to have been a part of the coverage. I sat out Newtown and the Blizzard of 2013, due to an injury. I am glad I got to cover this awful event.
I am proud to say I work for the best local television station in the Country, WCVB-TV. We have a great team who worked many days and long hours together during this tragic event. We shared our grief and anxiety. Only WBZ-TV continues to cover the Boston Marathon locally. Several years ago it was decided not to cover the race live. From a business stand point it did not work anymore. It will be interesting to see what the stations and networks do next year.
Here is a link to compelling audio of the first 20 minutes after the explosion. The commanding office Yankee C2 is Dan Linsky of the Boston Police Department. Notice how calm and organized he is.
Here is the link to Diane Sawyer’s interview with Kaitlin Roig a couple of months after Newtown.
Since the tragic yet fascinating story on the news November 21, 2010 about Delvonte Tinsdale a 16 year old who is believed to have stowed away in the wheel well of a plane from Charlotte, North Carolina and falling to his death over the down of Milton, Massachusetts I have been thinking about my experiences at Logan Airport.
As a kid growing up in Revere, the planes were on a landing path over our house. Sometimes we thought the plane was coming for dinner. There was also a small airport in Revere we visited as a family to watch the planes landing and taking off.
Once in a while when my friends had nothing to do we would get on the train and go to Logan to watch the big planes coming and going. In those days you could watch people getting on and off the planes on the tarmac from a roof top balcony. I was there with my good friend Peter Tegan many years ago when Elizabeth Taylor landed. It was just after she left Eddie Fisher for Richard Burton while filming “Cleopatra.” To say the least, most of the people watching were not complimentary to her when she walked the tarmac although I doubt she could hear what was being shouted from where we were.
The first plane crash at Logan I remember had to be in the early 60s. The plane went off the runway into Winthrop Harbor; that stretch of water between Logan and Winthrop. Gene Dixon, one of the great photographers I worked with, told the story of hearing the first call and following a Boston Police Cruiser through the Summer Tunnel (there was only one tunnel in those days and it was two-way coming and going from Boston to East Boston). The cruiser was not sure the best access and went up and down the inlet streets of Winthrop and ended up on Dix Street where former Governor Edward King lived. It was a good access point from that side of the tragedy and Gene took whatever photos he could make from that distance. In high school after the crash one of my teachers, Mr. Millerick, talked about the crash and complained how many rubber-neckers there were trying to get a glimpse of the incident. Truth be known even back then had I been able to get there I would have been there.
When the Boston Fire Department struck fire box 612 you knew it could be something as that was the fire box number for crashes at Logan. There was a crash in the late ‘70s when an airplane coming in for a landing in the fog hit the retaining wall on Runway 33 Left, breaking apart on impact and bursting into flames. The day that happened I was doing an interview in Newton at the home of a widow whose husband had been shot through one of their windows as he watched TV. I was with Ed Corsetti (best crime reporter of his era) and we had no idea about the crash. We left the interview and turned on the AM radio to hear about it. It happened just before noon.
Gene Dixon once again was on the incident and he told the story of being on the Boston Commons with other photographers and hearing the Boston Globe desk calling their photographer on their two-way radio telling him about the crash. Gene left immediately raced to Logan, got through the gate and took a couple of quick photos and left so he could make our evening paper’s noonish deadline. As he told it, he raced to the scene, took a few photos and raced back to the paper. As he was driving through the Dewey Square Tunnel (now the Liberty Tunnel) the transmission on his car gave out. He jumped out of his car and hoofed it the rest of the way, probably about a mile, but he got in on time to grab Page One of the paper. He got a hundred dollar bonus and it cost him about a thousand dollars for the repair. The money really did not matter as it gave him something to joke about on such an awful story.
There was one survivor; a soldier by the name of Leopold Chinard from the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area. He died several months later as he was burned over most of his body. Kevin Cole was also at the scene and had some great images of a terrible crash. I got stuck taking photos of families lining up outside the South End Morgue to view the bodies for identification.
The night the infamous World Airlines Plane skidded off the runaway after an ice storm Gene Dixon was once again the first one there, raced out on the runway and got a great Page One photo. I was home in Roslindale taking a nap about 6:30 PM with the radios blaring in the background and I must have been counting the box as I remember lying there and saying to myself 612 and jumped out of bed and started heading for Logan. It was very slippery going and when I came down the ramp to the Tunnel I skidded over a lane or two before I made my entrance. By the time I got there I only went to the gate the plane was assigned to. I photographed the passengers as they came back to the gate via a bus.
There are two incidents that I was personally involved in and one of them was a Saturday in the late ‘70s. It was about 11am and I had just walked out of the photo department office to go to the newsroom when Tom Sullivan, the City Editor came running down yelling “everyone out, everyone out there is a plane crash at Logan!” I took off running down the stairs and racing to the scene. I was really moving and almost missed the ramp to the Xway North to take me to the Tunnel and Logan. In those days all there was blocking us from the runways at the South Gate was a sign and a guard. My friend from Channel Seven, Richie Suskin, and I arrived at the same time after racing to the scene. We whizzed past him so fast we must have made his head spin.
FYI, if you did that now a days you would hit a barricade and if you made it through that someone would probably shoot you.
We raced out to where a cargo plane was burning, trying to keep up with the fire apparatus racing to the scene. No one was bothering us, as everyone was too busy trying to save lives. When we got there, I watched Richie go to one side of the crash, being pursued by a State Trooper who was at the scene. I took many photos as the access was great, then got back in my car and followed an ambulance out since I knew they were in contact with the tower making it safe to cross the runways. All the other photographers were eventually brought out there by a Mass Port bus.
There is one more runway experience I remember very well. It was a weekday and box 612 was struck. All the media raced to the south gate to wait for the Mass Port bus. The bus would take us out to where there was a plane on the end of the runway. A plane had an engine fire and had aborted take off.
I knew my good friend Billy Noonan, a Boston Firefighter, was working and since he was the photographer with the arson squad he would be going to the scene. I said to a couple of the photographers, “In a few minutes there will be a little red car with its red lights on coming to this gate and I will be getting in it.” They just laughed at me. Next thing they saw was me with my thumb out and the car stopping and taking me to the scene. I got a really good photo showing the Mass Port ladder up, the plane with the escape slides deployed and the city of Boston in the background. It was a great photo of the incident.
A while later the bus with the rest of the photographers showed up. Everyone started taking photos but by then the ladder had been taken down and it was just a plane on the runway. Dick Hurwitz the AP Chief Photographer saw me and thought I had come on the second bus and was gleeful to tell me how happy he was to have gotten there before me. I laughed and said to him “take a look at tomorrow’s paper and remember what you just said.” I kicked butt with my photo.
FYI, recently the family of Delvonte Tinsdale filed suit against Charlotte, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and US Airways.
Rollie Oxton, Pulitzer Prize Winner, my hero, mentor, friend and I got to work with him at the old Record American where I started in this business. Rollie was the King of his era. He cruised the streets of Boston for parts of 3 decades, always there when it happened.
Recently I made contact with his son David, the head of the art department at the Governor Dummer School in Byfield, MA. We have exchanged emails and now I get a chance to display some of his great images and talk about my hero.
When I was a kid growing up outside of Boston (Revere) and newspapers were an important staple of our lives, I got to see Rollie’s photos all the time. I would look at newspaper and daydream about being able to stay up all night and chase policemen, firefighters and be where the action was, just like him. Once when I was with my father riding in downtown Boston I saw him cruising wearing his trademark hat. I was thrilled to have gotten a glimpse of him.
In 1966 I got to join the paper where Rollie worked. He was a God in the industry. If Danny Sheehan of the Globe was Captain Midnight, Rollie was King Midnight. Globe people might disagree with me but I think Rollie almost always had the best pictures. They were great work friends and great competitors. Everyone knew and liked him. He knew them all, police, firefighters, pimps, prostitutes and a lot of the street people. Sometimes when I got to work his overnight shift driving around in the marked company car people would yell out “where is Rollie?”
Most of the other news photographers were in awe of him and everyone had a Rollie story about his greatness. Ollie Noonan, Jr., another great Boston photographer who died in Vietnam in a helicopter crash while working for AP had a great Rollie story. Ollie was working the overnight shift for the Globe and responded to a building fire on Commonwealth Ave., in the Back Bay. There was fire showing and a woman was on a balcony waiting to be rescued. He looked around and no Rollie. Wow, he thought he was finally going to beat the Master. Then the fire department throws their ladder to rescue the woman and who is standing next to him, Rollie. It just did not happen unless Rollie was there.
When I began Rollie was using a Mamiflex 120mm film camera. A machine shop had set up an adapter on the side of his camera, which gave he a toothpick like handle to maneuver. This handle would snap into grooves on the adapter. Each groove was representative of focus feet for the lens as most of the photographers from the 4/5 era zoned focused never focusing through the viewfinder. It must have worked, as his images were sharp as a tack.
He took so many great news photos, and he could do anything there was to do with the camera but his best stuff was breaking news. The day after the terrible Sherry Biltmore Hotel fire in 1963 he had a wrap around photo on the cover of the paper showing multiple ladders up to the building and people being rescued while others had their hands out the windows hoping to be saved. The Sherry Biltmore Hotel was at 150 Mass Ave approximately where the Berklee College of Music now stands.
I haunted him, begging to be able to ride with him and like myself he would rather be by himself. I was relentless in my request and started showing up on Wednesday and Saturday nights hoping to ride with him. Sometimes he would let me in the car and other times he would say “not tonight.”
One Sunday morning we were cruising through the Back Bay near Hereford Street with me babbling and Rollie listening to the radios when he yells out Royce Road, Royce Road, I think it is in Brighton but please look it up.
We were there in about 8 minutes; Rollie jumps out of the car, circles the parameter as I am still trying to get a shot and says lets go. I did not think he took a good photo but next day there it is a great shot of the body in front of the police cruisers headlights.
In the late 50s or early 60s, Rollie was assigned to take some photos of the homeless and street people hanging around the Boston Common. He took a photo of a person supposedly drunk on a park bench with empty bottles of liquor around her. Albert “Dapper” O’Neil a local politician found out the photo might have been set up and took on the Record American. He set up at their Winthrop Square building in downtown Boston. Dapper had a car with signs and a megaphone standing in the middle of the Square shouting out nasty’s about the paper.
I worked the photo lab for many years on Saturday morning and brought him in a coffee every week. One Saturday I walked in around 730 and told him there was a big fire on Tremont Street, the C. Crawford Hollidge Department Store was fully involved. It was opposite the Boston Common, he cursed as he ran out knowing he had been by there shortly before he came to the office. He must have been at the fire ten minutes, took a couple of photos, came back and owned page one.
One night after some civil unrest in the City I was assigned to ride with him so he would not be alone. We were driving around the South End and someone made a derogatory remark to him. Rollie got out of the car and had a conversation with the man as I stayed in my seat thinking we were going to get shot or something. He feared nothing.
Later in the overnight there was a fire in Roxbury. We both went and my photos sucked. I was tired and shot nothing of any interest. He took a couple of his images and put my name on the caption sheet so I would not look foolish.
The morning after the Guilded Cage explosion January of 1966, on Boylston Street in Boston’s “Combat Zone” he came into the office at the end of his overnight shift and the editor, Sam Bornstein asked him if he had anything good and Rollie replied no. He printed one photo, an overall of the destruction; another wrap around and Sam could not believe Rollie said he did not have anything very good.
Rollie did not get excited over many of his photos but the one of Paul Stanley rescuing a woman from the Charles River really turned him on and another one where several Boston Cops captured a suspect with their guns drawn from the opposite side of a fence he enjoyed.
On another occasion he comes back from his shift and prints a photo of a car fire on the Xway but this time he had the car exploding and people including firefighters running from the wreckage. He left a short caption and went home. As soon as the editors saw it they were on the phone to him asking for more information, he was so humble about his skills.
In the late 60s there was a short-lived riot on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury. It began with the taking over of a couple of welfare offices and ended with a group of angry folks running down Blue Hill Ave from Grove Hall destroying many mom and pop business who never recovered. Rollie was asked to start his shift early incase something happened and of course it did not happen till he got there.
He also knew how to make nice feature photos and got many good sunrise photos around Castle Island of morning fishermen. He worked Sundays so he did many Easter Sunrise Services. Another beautiful photo he made was a pushcart person moving his equipment into place early one morning. He knew how to use whatever light there was or they wasn’t. He could do it all.
Rollie had made a picture of his oldest daughter Louise in front of the fireplace at Christmas time when she was very young. A beautifully lite photo with the Xmas stocking hanging and the fireplace going. The funny thing about this photo it resurfaced every dozen or so years with a different name around Christmas time and always got a great display.
After Rollie retired I would see him and his wife at the Dunkin Donut at Bell’s Circle in Revere. It was a real treat for me and I hope for him. He died in 1984. Rollie is buried in the cemetery opposite the Nahant Police Station. He must still be listening to police calls.
His son David added some history for this blog and many photos of which I hope are properly displayed, as he was the best.
My father served in the US Army during WWII and was in both Europe and Japan. He was a member of the photo corps. While in Japan, he had his own Jeep and it had the words Marion Louise written on the side (the first names of my mother and oldest sister). My father died in October 1984. He was 73. He was born and grew up in Chelsea. He only attended school until the 6th grade. His father died that year, and he went out to work to help support his mother.
Please visit David’s website and Rollie’s grandson Timothy’s websites.
Following are several more photos and memories of Rollie. This blog was written with wonderful thoughts and memories.
In the last 12 years I have covered the funeral of six Worcester Firefighters. Five of the six died at the Cold Storage Warehouse fire on December 6, 1999 and the sixth one was last week, just two days after the 12th anniversary of that awful fatal fire. Six firefighters died in the Cold Storage fire in 1999 and I would have covered all of them except one of the funerals was on Saturday. I was the pool for most or all of them due to my connections with the Boston Fire Department who helped set up their services in 1999. For this funeral they assisted and brought their ramp for placing the casket on top of a piece of apparatus and for the attendants to carry it into the church and the gravesite.
I am always reminded from a speech Boston Firefighters Local 718 President Neal Santangelo gave many years ago as he addressed the new firefighters at their swearing in. He said, “We will help you to be safe and in the end we will bury you.” I thought that day how scary for the new Jakes, who have not even been to a real fire and were already receiving notice of the reality of the job.
This funeral was no different than the many I have covered through the years, not just in Worcester but many of the cities and towns around our coverage area. Many memories of firefighter funerals stick out in my mind. In 1972, when the Vendome Hotel Collapsed killing 8 Boston Firefighters, I can remember covering the funeral with all the caskets lined up at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End. In Clinton, the wife of a firefighter killed in the line of duty, wearing her somber black dress, coming down the steps of the Church on that freezing cold day with her husband’s charred helmet in her hands. In Stoughton, the same thing, another helmet being clutched tightly in the hands of a firefighter.
Coming back to last week in Worcester, I watched the helmet of fallen firefighter Jon Davies being carried by his partner on the Rescue, Brain Carroll, who was also caught in the collapse. He escaped serious injury after being pulled from the rubble after being trapped for at least 45 minutes. He spent less than 48 hours in the hospital. How pained he must have been as he followed the fire truck with the casket of Davies being brought to his final resting place. He might have been wondering why Jon and not me and his eulogy certainly expressed the emotions he was going through.
The day of the incident reporter Kelly Tuthill and I set up at the Worcester Firefighter’s Memorial to watch and talk to people coming to pay their respects. We got a terrific interview from a high school friend of Davies who was in the area when he found out and stopped to say a prayer. The saddest one I saw was a woman who just hugged the memorial statue while crying. I had assumed it was someone from the families of the 1999 fire and her emotions had been stirred by the new death. I watched her for a few minutes not bringing my camera over, as I knew I could not tape the scene without putting the light on and upsetting her. I did go up and ask if I could help her and was told no thank you. Turns out she was the fiancée of the victim.
The wake itself was routine as the media set up across the street from the funeral home, shooting whatever was going on as folks walked into to give their condolences or maybe to say a prayer. Then the mood changed, at least for me. Deputy Chief Frank Diliddo came over right before our five o’clock live shot to tell us about an eleven-year-old boy, Jared Flanders who rode his bike to the wake to pay his respects. He was seen sitting in the third row and people were wondering who he was. He had come on his own, learned to put his tie on by reading instructions from a book, and said he wanted to be there because he really liked firefighters.
We interviewed the boy and strangely enough when reporters asked him if he wanted to be a firefighter he said it was third on his list, picking a lawyer first. He came to be the Worcester Fire Department’s goodwill person and the department treated him as well as would be expected. The police drove him home that night and next day he was a guest of the fire department, arriving in the scuba team truck to attend the services. The boy then got to march with the bagpipes band in the front row as the firefighters left the Church. There was saluting as the boy marched the route with them. It was a very uplifting moment in an otherwise very sad story.
My assignment was to cover the procession for Jack’s Harper’s pieces later in the show, as he was live during the church service. As usual, he did a great job during the live show, as I went up and down the streets trying to get video for him and stills for our website. I did very well; taking some good stills and getting some of the video, which was needed. Jack had a smorgasbord of video as our coverage was everywhere and he did a great job summarizing the service in his later pieces that day.
Jack alerted me the firefighter carrying the helmet was Firefighter Brian Carroll. I spent the next 20 minutes following the engine company with the casket on it looking for a clear shot of Carroll. I spotted the young boy marching, and then the apparatus and then Firefighter Carroll came into view holding the helmet.
At the end of firefighter services, a fire department member rings a very shiny bell. They ring 1–1, 1–1, then again 1–1, 1–1, the “all-out” signal to an alarm of fire. Sadly, on this day the “all-out” call was not to signify the end of a fire, but instead was a somber reminder that for Firefighter Jon Davies, the final “all-out” has been sounded.
Additional Information on the Worcester Six from December 6, 1999 from Robert Winston, Boston Fire District Chief, retired. A friend of mine from his BFD days.
Camaraderie Under Fire: A Remembrance of the Worcester Tragedy
It was December 3, 1999 when an abandoned cavernous warehouse was set afire by two homeless people who “lived” in the hulking structure. This was the Worcester Cold and Storage Warehouse that was located in the City of Worcester, Massachusetts. The scene of this fire was to become one of fiery collapse, death, heartache, heroism, and camaraderie under the most extreme firefighting conditions.
The homeless man made sexual advances to his girl friend and she had rebuffed his suggestions. He became angry and the two were arguing and throwing things. They were using candles for light and one of the lighted candles was knocked into a pile of debris that quickly ignited. The fire spread as the two squatters fled into the cold night air leaving the fire to grow into what would become one of the worst Line Of Duty (fire service) Deaths (LODD) in the history of the Worcester Fire Department.
Firefighters in many fire engines responded to the growing fire. More aid was called to the scene as it became obvious to the chief in charge that this was no routine fire-fight. Heavy smoke turned to visible flames as the fire ate through the nearly windowless ark of a structure. Inside were many firefighters straining to extinguish the flames. The interior was a maze of darkened rooms and corridors. Six floors of them! Debris was scattered everywhere adding to the difficulties of searching blindly to find the seat of the fire and being able to exit the building in a hurry if needed.
A number of Firefighters became disoriented in the smoke, heat and darkness. They radioed for help. Brother firefighters entered the burning building to try and rescue their now trapped comrades. Time after time these rugged firefighting veterans made dangerous and heroic attempts to find their colleagues. It was no use.
The fire had been eating away at the strength of the brick and wood edifice. It started to collapse. The fire chief in command ordered all firefighters to stop rescue attempts and to vacate the fire building. Six Worcester Firefighters would perish this night despite the Herculean efforts of a small army of firefighters. Recovery of their bodies would last for an arduous somber eight days and nights.
The call went out across the New England region for assistance to respond to Worcester. Many emergency and non-emergency personnel turned out to help. They came by the hundreds to stand with and work with their brother and sister firefighters until the difficult and honorable task of recovery was completed.
The City of Boston Fire Department immediately sent personnel and equipment to the tragic scene. I was one of the many that were sent. My role was one of the safety operational sector chiefs. Those of us that were assigned that task would check for safety issues, look for hazards and prevent any further injuries or deaths. Prior to our arrival at the warehouse fire tragedy, we were given a briefing that included specific instructions and alerted us that the Worcester Firefighters were under severe emotional stress. We were told that tempers may be short and to use tact and to be sensitive to the raw emotions being experienced by the Worcester Firefighters.
It was the second night of the eight nights of recovery operations. The warehouse roof, floors and two exterior walls had fallen and were now huge piles of smoldering debris. The danger of additional structural collapse and of firefighters falling through burned out floors haunted us. The safety officers were kept busy and were vigilant. Injury or worse was at every step.
As I was surveying a section of the building I noticed that a Worcester Fire Lieutenant was standing in a very dangerous location. Debris was loosely dangling above him. I approached the man to warn him of the situation. He was a tall lean guy. Much taller than I. His face was black with soot and his eyes were red and swollen. He looked very tired and tense. I tried to warn him, as delicately as I could, that he was in a dangerous spot. What we were cautioned about prior to our arrival at this fire was about to happen. The Lieutenant became angry with me and got in my face. He didn’t care what rank I was or that I was looking out for his safety. Angry emotion packed words were hurled at me. I tried to reason with him to no avail. A Worcester Chief Officer was standing nearby and saw and heard what was happening. He immediately positioned himself between the lieutenant and myself and defused what could have become an ugly situation. I explained the reason why I had tried to talk to his lieutenant and then I pointed upwards to the hanging debris. The chief understood, apologized to me and assured me that he’d talk to his lieutenant. We both knew and understood how tempers can flare under the unprecedented stressful circumstances that we were all caught up in.
Eight days had passed since the fire began. I had returned to the scene and was again assigned as a safety operational sector chief. The pile of smoldering debris that was once this old warehouse had been reduced in size and fully extinguished. Five of Worcester’s Bravest had been recovered. One was still buried somewhere in the remaining mounds of twisted steel, burned wood and bricks. As I surveyed the scene I noticed the lieutenant that I had the earlier encounter with. He was searching some rubble. I inquired about him and was told that he had been at the scene from the fire’s start and had refused to go home for eight days and nights.
The cold day turned into a very cold and windy December night as recovery operations continued for the last firefighter. Firefighter Paul Brotherton’s body was located under one of the many mounds of bricks and charred wood. His precise and somber removal from the debris will be a picture in my mind’s eye that I will never forget.
It was so cold and dark and quiet as Firefighter Brotherton’s body was taken away in an ambulance. The sad task of recovery was finally over that night. The healing could begin.
There was a large crowd of people standing quietly beyond the yellow safety tape that surrounded the ruins. Hundreds of firefighters formed two parallel lines leading from the destroyed building out to the crowd of onlookers. The Worcester Firefighters climbed down from the piles of debris and slowly walked between the two rows of firefighters who had come from other fire departments. As the Worcester Firefighters passed by us we saluted them, applauded them, shook their hands and some gave hugs. One by one they filed through the rows. A walk of honor and consolation.
I barely recognized the lieutenant whom I encountered days before. It was his height that caused me to look harder at him than at his brothers. His face was now gaunt, blackened and the eyes were red and sunken. We looked at each other. He recognized me and stopped walking. It was more like a slow shuffle. I shook his hand first. Then the lieutenant literally collapsed into my arms. We embraced each other as only firefighters can do at a time like this and he began to sob. Even through our heavy wet protective firefighter’s gear he felt frail and unsteady. Tears stained our faces as we looked at each other. Unbelievably this exhausted weary fire lieutenant apologized to me. I was sort of…stunned. I told him that it was okay, gave him my condolences for his losses and hugged the man again. I watched him as he walked away shoulder to shoulder with his comrades.
I never saw the man again. I have thought of him from time to time when the memory of the Worcester Tragedy comes back to me or when I see the word “camaraderie.”
Robert M. Winston
Boston District Fire Chief-Retired
After 45 years of chasing news professionally I realize I cannot be the first on the scene with a camera unless I am the first one on the scene. Everyone is ready to capture the moment happening in front of them.It started about midnight last night when in the background as I was sort of sleeping I heard someone on my scanners say, “fully involved.” I had not a clue who it was and as quickly as I turned over to see the scanner display, the channel changed and without my reading glasses on I could not have seen it anyway.
Seconds later my Nextel chirped from a scanner buffs call to tell me about a serious accident in Lynn MA. I was up getting dressed when I got my 2nd call this time on the home phone. There was also a voice mail from a friend who on sighted the accident. When I got to the scene of the horrific accident I noticed there was plenty of access visually to the two car accident with one car totaled including having been fully involved in fire and the other which had 5 people in it pretty much crushed from the impact. It was the car with the five people in it, which struck the first car. The car, which was struck, burst into flames, the driver got out of the car aglow with the fire engulfing him.
First thing I noticed was all the people with their cell phones working the scene. I knew right away to get what I could of the aftermath then start the search for someone who had some good visuals. I was across the street from the damaged cars when this young fellow found me and told me about his video, the car fully involved in flame and the driver running around on fire. I looked at the video and said my station would like to purchase it. He was all excited and the arrangements were made for him to email in the video. Usually the video or stills I find are “good enough” for use on websites and even to be broadcast on a news report.
The problem was and is as a long time news photographer I cannot beat the competition anymore. The competition is anyone who has a cell phone, smart phone or any other portable device, which takes stills or video. The other problem being practically everyone has the technology and knows what to do with it. Of course there is my brother in-law and uncle who have not a clue of how to work their phones other than to say hello. The current news person not only has to get to a scene, sum up what is needed to cover the story then search for the person with the best images they can get for their news organization or social media network.
This is the link to the images and video captured at the scene and aired by WCVB-TV by smart phone user Stephen Socci.
I do well on the search for the best stuff available as my station sort of allows me to make offers to the owner of these images with a financial reward. Not only do I try to get there first I have to be first in gathering other people’s stuff. The most important words in what we do with instant media is “right now” and I plan to be all over it.
Many years ago during a holiday dinner with a family friend the host, David Estes kept talking to me about how wonderful it was to be published. I had never given it any thought. I was published everyday and took it for granted. So the bottom line here is everyone is a news photographer whether they really are a news photographer. So if you are a “real” news photographer get to the incident, size it up and make sure you shoot the best aftermath, as that is all that is going to be left most times.
Back in the late 70s I covered an MIT Commencement where Lee Iacocca spoke and his last words were “graduates, start your engines.”
As the great news photographer Nat Whittemore once told me when I switched to TV, “dazzle them with your footwork.”
In the new world of news I say, “good enough video gets published and the professional news photographers must see what others don’t see and make theirs more compelling.”
FYI, when I asked my daughter Molly if she had read this blog her answer was “do you mean the one where you whine about people and their iPhone photos?”
Gasoline tankers, terrible danger, deafening explosions and many times tragic deaths. As I review the many I have covered, seven at today’s count. I know of two which resulted in a death or severe injury. The worst one being my first big story in 1966, a month after I began at the Record American (referenced in a another blog on this site “my first major tradgedy, 8 DOA”) and now this one on July 23, 2011.
My first call for the incident came from my friend Alan who is a freelance photographer for the Lynn Item. He is up all night listening to the scanners. While mine are running the problem is with our room air conditioner on and my hard of hearing ears I was having a problem hearing the radios which are running next to my side of the bed the extra help is needed. Thankfully I get it.
Alan said a tractor trailer flipped over in either Saugus or Revere as both police departments were yakking about it. He said they were saying Essex Street. I immediately knew in my dazed state of wakeup it was Essex Street in Saugus. I thought he meant a large tractor trailer and the saddle tanks had caught fire not realizing for a minute or two it was a gasoline tanker.
I got up slid down the pole (only kidding) got dressed quickly (my clothes and equipment are always ready) but at my age I have to make a pit stop before I get going and then I have this thing about brushing my teeth so that took another minute. Unless my destination is within a couple of minutes of my house and the extra minute or two is going to be too costly I stop for these chores.
I made great time getting there, no real traffic and knowing the area of Route One and listening to the radios I thought I could sneak around the road blocks through the Square One Mall parking lot and it worked. I also knew the police would not have all their resources in place to block off everything so soon. A few minutes later I might have had problems getting as close as I did.
So there it was, a tanker on its side, flames shooting 60 plus feet in the air and explosive thunder from the ignitions of the fuel taking place, great TV which was the only thing I was thinking about not knowing at this time a life has been lost and another person severely burned. That knowledge would put a damper on the excitement I was enjoying as I had kicked butt with my images.
I was standing in the southbound lane of Route One and the truck was less than 30–40 yards in front of me. I wished once again I had brought my tripod but carrying my still camera, a 22 pound plus video camera, two phones, extra batteries was enough. It was sweltering out there from the summer temperatures, with the humidity very high and add to that the heat from the fire; the tripod stays in the car. There was also the thought of additional explosions and having to run for cover. Less is better sometimes. Yes I am second guessing myself because the tripod would have meant steadier video but when the competition is far behind it doesn’t really matter. I envy those who can carry everything.
After spending a long time on the southbound side I ventured over to another angle closer to the tanker. I was concerned if I left where I was I might lose the great spot I had but I needed other angles. The funny part of this is I kept hearing explosions but the shots I was making of the burning fuel did not show any big blasts. I realized these explosions were taking place about 1500 to 2000 feet behind the fire well into the residential areas of Saugus where a house and other structures caught fire after the fuel floated down an adjacent stream.
After getting these shots I walked back to my original location saw a ranking trooper and asked if I could go north in the south and then go south in the north lanes as I needed to be on the other side. I was told “Stanley you have been around long enough, be careful and if you get stopped tell them I said it was okay.” I got to the other side and began trudging up and down the ramp complex to get what I needed. During all of this I was putting the video camera down and capturing great still images with my digital camera. I guess I don’t know how to use my IPhone camera as I could not get a really good shot of the fire with it or maybe the shutter of the IPhone is too slow to stop the action?
I did what I had to do, left the scene, drove to Revere where I could feed my video(I have a microwave transmitter in my company vehicle but I need line of site for a couple of receive sites in Boston and or Needham) for the Eye Opener show. In the meantime the office had sent a reporter, John Atwater, a satellite truck and two more photographers; it was like we struck a third alarm while the fire department struck 8 alarms. We kicked butt, live on the highway throughout our show and we had the video to back up the talk. We were walking the walk and talking the talk.
I reflected the rest of the day about the other tanker fires I have covered in my 45 years as a news photographer. The first one I covered was about 40 plus years earlier and less than a mile from where we were. It was also northbound on Route One and I remember the fire fighters chasing rolling streams of burning gasoline down the highway but I don’t remember any structures burning or injuries.
Another one was on route 93 northbound in the Reading area in 1978. I was wearing a walking cast after surgery for an Achilles tendon rupture. I had a plastic material boot on it to protect it from water and there I was on the highway dodging burning gasoline and water so my plaster cast would not melt.
In Methuen one weekend morning a tanker blew up at a neighborhood gas station but his time the gasoline was contained in a blown-up piece of the tanker burning as if it was in a barbeque pit. After the initial explosion it just burned straight up for a couple of hours. For the most part the fire department protected the exposures and let it burn itself out.
A couple of years ago I got a call on a Saturday morning from Matt Wilder the morning producer who heard the explosion outside of the Channel Five Studios in Needham, on Route 128/95. He looked out the window, saw the large loom up and called me. How frustrating it was as I knew no matter how fast I could get there it would not be fast enough as 40 miles can only be covered in no less than 30 plus minutes. As I was circling 128, watching the large funnel cloud of smoke and I knew when I got there it would be dissipated. When I did finally get there I was directed off the exit ramp. I walked down a parallel street, followed the hose lines and eventually talked my way onto the highway. It ended up being okay as I was the only one who was able to talk to the lucky uninjured driver about what happened.
I think the biggest story of a tanker rollover and explosion was the one in Everett a couple of winters ago. I was lying in bed wide awake around 3AM and heard a trooper call in saying a tanker had just exploded at the route 99 overpass/rotary in Everett. This location overlooked an elderly residential apartment building and houses.
I had to pass the scene I was at Saturday to get to this inferno. Down Route One straight up Route 99 wondering where the roadblocks would be hoping it was close enough to the scene to be able to do my job. I was able to work my way around several obstacles, ran through the snow covered streets. My video showed what a great job the cops and firefighters were doing to help residents evacuate their homes. There was one funny happening as Everett Police were helping the elderly from their residence, pushing wheelchairs and trying to keep everyone calm one woman said to me “this reminds me of the war years in London when I used to be taken to a shelter when the bombings started.” I asked her “when was the last time she had been up this late” and she smiled at me.
Below are links to great stories and photos done for my station WCVB-TV,
What a week, starting off on Sunday covering a fatal motorcycle accident. It was one of those smaller bikes or should I just say not a Harley. It was Sunday morning in Saugus, MA, around 6:30am when I took a run to a call that sounded serious.
When I got there Saugus Police had the area condoned off and there was what was left of the bike. Half at one point of the area and the other half at the other side. In the middle was the driver’s seat and a helmet with char marks from the resulting fire after the bike went under a pickup truck and bursting into flames, the 20 year old driver did not survive.
The week before I was driving north on Route One in Saugus when two of those bikes went flying by me. The first one doing near 100 miles an hour almost tipping over as he made the curves. A few minutes later I saw the bikes pulling into a restaurant further up the road and I pulled in after them.
I rolled down my window and identified myself as a news person and asking them in no uncertain terms what they were doing driving like that explaining in my way of explaining how many dead people I had seen as a result of craziness like they displayed. One of the riders apologized and I said not to me pal but to your family after you are gone. When I asked the other if he wanted to die he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. I said don’t believe what Osama said you are not coming back.
On Monday of last week it got worse a 12 year old had drowned in the waters off of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. She went missing around 8: pm Sunday night after her and her 20 year old brother had gone for a swim.
Reporter Jack Harper and I caught up with the family Monday morning and it was a home of a tragedy we walked into. The family could not have been nicer inviting us in to copy photos of the young girl which were hanging on the wall then talking to us about what happened.
The 20 year brother was distraught as he explained how he and his family decided at 5: pm there wasn’t much traffic and they should go to Hampton Beach for some fun. Around 8pm the two of them decided to go for a swim. They did not realize how cold the water was or how stiff the current was flowing. In the water a couple of minutes and suddenly his younger sister was yelling for help and he was trying to reach her. He was blaming himself for not being able to reach her and still hearing her shouts for help. He told us while trying and not succeeding in keeping himself composed how he became exhausted almost drowning himself till a passerby pulled him to safety. It was awful to visualize and I am sure he will be keeping those awful memories with him the rest of his life. A few hours later her body was discovered about where she was last seen. She had come in with the currents that took her away.
Wednesday started off great chasing weather and quarter size hail. I did not get to catch up with the ice on my first run around nine in the morning but the day continued with a lightning strike house fire in Andover then the call for a sighting of a bear that had been spotted the day before in Weston, MA.
I went from Andover to Wayland hoping I would be there for the capture of the animal who was shopping for food at the wrong restaurant, neighborhood streets. There was several sightings that morning and I was chasing police who were chasing the bear, lot of excitement and for me lots of fun as the only bears I had ever viewed were in captivity.
Jack Harper was once again going to be my partner and as the cops were searching the woods behind the house where the last sighting took place a call came in from neighboring Framingham they had the bear in sight about a mile from where I was.
I sped down route 126 not knowing for sure where I was going but knowing it was supposed to be just over the town line. I saw the entering Framingham sign and knew I was close but after driving about a mile I decided I must have missed the street and yes I did on the first pass.
I spotted a police cruiser this time and got up to a fence where cops and civilians were yelling there it is there it is and a couple of them convinced there were two bears. I jumped out of the car debating whether to grab my tripod and decided I didn’t want to take the extra few seconds it would take and besides that carrying both a tripod and camera is hard on my back.
There I was looking through my black and white viewfinder with these people yelling there it is and no way I could spot it though the camera lens, a black bear, dark trees and leaves and no separation of colors.
I figured I should get my tripod for the long wait for the bear to come out from the brush. While setting up the tripod and mounting the camera the group starting yelling again and I glanced to the left and there it was about 3 seconds of view and before I could shoot it (with the camera) it was gone. At least I got to see a bear in the woods.
We were waiting to do a live shot when the calls starting coming in about a possible tornado in Springfield. The weather conditions where we were starting deteriorating and there was no way we could do a live shot, lightening and wind were putting an end to that.
I was able to pull up one of the radio applications on my IPhone and listen to fire calls in western part of the State. There was confirmation of a touch down of at least one tornado in Springfield which would later grow to three separate tornados all being a category threes with gusts as high as 165 MPH.
Then the real fun began and believe me it wasn’t fun. Jack and I started heading West on the Pike for Springfield about an hour away. It got very scary and Jack had been telling me about this great show on tornados he had watched the night before. At one point he said he wished he had not watched it as he now knew too much about them.
About 20 minutes down the pike the sky got darker the rain heavy and the quarter size hail I missed in the morning was pounding down on our vehicle banging away like someone was throwing rocks at us. We pulled over like many other vehicles and Jack did the first of three great phoners for the news reports. What a description he gave as he put the viewer in our car watching what we were seeing.
Continue west we heard reports of a tornado travelling east parallel to the Pike heading towards us as we headed west towards it. We were not sure what to do and were trying to figure out where we take shelter if we see one. I think we both would have liked to see it as long as we could be safe. The only place I could see and it was kind of a joke was under a guardrail which I could never fit under and would probably not help us anyway.
I would hear calls for buildings collapsing in Munson which ended up being one of the harder hit towns but Springfield was our destination as we knew it was a sure thing. After talking our way into one of the ravaged areas in the 200 block of Maple Street we could see how severe the damage was. Many trees uprooted, houses heavily damaged and people clinging to each other happy to have survived the onslaught. It was tough to look at knowing many of these people had not much to begin with and they lost whatever was left.
That was day one of the storm and day two was worse as reporter Kelly Tuthill and I went to West Springfield where two of the three people killed as a result of the storm lived. The first one we went to was a house that was no more where a 39 year old mother had grabbed her daughter; put her in the bath tub with her and protected her from the destruction by lying on top of her. The 15 year old survived with non life threatening injuries while the mother died doing what mothers do, trying to keep their children safe.
From there we traveled a few miles from that house to the home of a 23 year old man whose family had come from Russia and his parents and eight siblings lived. He had been killed driving down Main Street in West Springfield after a tree fell on his vehicle crushing him.
We talked to his sister who was a lovely young woman explaining to us what a wonderful brother he was and then talking about watching TVearlier and hearing someone had died after a tree had fallen. She told us how badly she felt for the victim and his family. When she found out it was her brother her whole world was crushed.
The week finally ended for me in Munson where I saw more houses destroyed, people trying to salvage what they could which wasn’t much and hearing stories of survival.
Total for week was five dead, scores of houses destroyed and sadness at every view.
Over the last few months I have had three incidents of ESP or at least what I think is ESP. It started when I was sitting in the North End listening to the scanners and all of a sudden I thought of Jeffery Curley.
He was a young boy murdered by two male pedophiles in Cambridge in the 90s. Through the ordeal I became friends with his father Bob Curley. Bob was the mechanic for the Cambridge Fire Department.
Shortly after the thought I was called to come to the office in Needham, Massachusetts to pick up a reporter. As I left the North End I made a conscious decision to go to the office via Storrow Drive instead of hopping on the Pike. From where I was parked it was a coin toss for which way to Needham was fastest.
I would be getting off at the “Coke Plant” ramp which is now Guest Quarters Hotel. As I was getting off the ramp to get on the Pike, I saw a man jogging and it caught my attention, it was Bob Curley just taking the turn from Memorial Drive onto the Esplanade of Storrow Drive going east. I rolled down my window and yelled out “Hi Mr. Curley” he acknowledged me and I just kept driving shaking my head of what a coincidence.
A few weeks later while walking my dogs I got to thinking about the movie “The Thorn Birds” with Richard Chamberlain and the scene where Barbara Stanwyck orders him to shoot one of the dogs when it was too aggressive getting its dinner. Then I started to think, whatever happened to Dr. Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) from a show that was on in the 60s or 70s? I wondered if he was still alive.
Two days later Debbie (my wife) and I were watching “Brothers and Sisters” and who makes a guest appearance but Richard Chamberlain. Another case of ESP?
Earlier this month, I was searching for a Logan Airport photo which I am writing about and came across a photo from 1977. It was of a Chelsea ladder rescue where Lt. Joe VonHandorf rescued a 16 year old girl, made July 9th, the day before my 32nd birthday. I had not seen or thought of this photo for almost 30 years. I took the photo while working the midnight shift. I was driving to the fire on Broadway in Chelsea and I could see a ladder rescue on Cary Avenue in progress and got there in time to get some images.
Two days after seeing this photo, I was sent to Sherborn, Massachusetts to get real estate footage of the scene of an earlier accident. I could not figure out exactly where the tree was that was struck and on the roadway there was a Sherborn Police Cruiser. I pulled up next to it, rolled my window down as did the cop inside and asked which tree got hit.
He asked me who I was and I said “Stanley from Channel Five.” He then asks “Stanley Forman?” I said “yes.” He then said he has a story to tell me.
We both get out of our cars and when he said his name, Chris VanHandoff the bells started ringing in my head. Then he starts to tell me I photographed his father who was a Chelsea Firefighter. I interrupted him and told him about the photo and I had just looked at it the day before. He gave some details about his father and we both were amazed at the coincidence.
From the Chelsea Fire Department Union Book that year: On the back it says “Pulitzer prize winning photographer Stanley Forman caught this dramatic moment on July 9, 1977, at 59 Cary Ave, Fire LT. Joe VonHandorf rescues Miss Estelle Scott, 16, over the aerial of Ladder 1, over heavy smoke in her third floor apartment. (Box 34, 2 alarms, 3:30am)”.
I was also told he was five years old when the photo and rescue took place. At his father’s wake in 2005 a family friend came up to him, introduces herself and told him that his father had rescued her almost 30 years before. This was the young woman in the photo.
I am hoping to catch up with her and eventually do a story. What you think ESP, Coincidence Or Just Life?
January 6, 2011
The saga continues as this past weekend while dubbing VHS videos to DVDs from my children’s younger years I came across a Channel Five’s news broadcast of a fire in Chelsea from the mid 90s. As I am watching some of the videos as they are being dubbed there was an interview and interviewee was Lt. Joe VonHandorf.
I made a copy of the video for his son Chris and sent it off. This is the heart warming response I received today via email.
Between my Mom, sister, and I we’ve gotten so much positive feedback from your story. We can’t be any more appreciative. Also, I received your video.…it was pretty emotional for me. It was the first time my young sons had ever heard my Dad’s voice and had seen him in anything other than photos. It’s a gift I’ll pass along to them someday.…thank you. To kinda go hand and hand with your story, my dad’s six year anniversary is Tuesday the 11th. Coincidence or happened for a reason. –Chris
From my Facebook:
Chris Von My own personal opinion, from a cop’s perspective.…there is no such thing as a coincidence, things happen for a reason. I have always believed that and always will. Thanks for the story Stan, my Dad is smiling down.
Monday October 11, 2010
My first shift of the week started off early. I got a call from Joe Roche on the assignment desk at my station WCVB-TV about a hit run fatal in Revere by the Wonderland Dog Track rotary. Second call on this story got me to Lynn where the suspect was found at a methadone clinic and where his car was located. It was towed before I got there. I carefully took video of the building making sure I did not show any of the people who were getting treatment there.
On my way from Lynn to the Revere scene I heard a call on one of the news group channels I monitor about a parachutist who was stuck in the trees in Dunstable adjacent to the Pepperell Airport where skydiving is a hobby.
I called in and started heading to the scene. All the way there I could hear various rescue units heading to the scene and one of the frequencies said it was too far in the woods for the ladder truck to reach the man in the trees so a rope operation would be used.
In the meantime one of the places the office was calling insisted the parachutist was rescued causing confusion. I knew better as the outside rescue units were still responding.
I had my GPS on but still I was not sure exactly where I was going. I did know some of the responding rescuers which I hoped would help.
When I got near Dunstable a Rehab Five vehicle driven by Roger Baker (it is a volunteer group who help at firefighter involved scenes with hydration and other needs) and an out of town fire chief passed me.
I fell in behind them but they were moving too quickly for me to keep up with and although I was communicating with Baker via our Nextel’s he went one way and I went another. I ended up about 8 miles out of the way at Pepperell Airport looking up and seeing lots of parachutes floating down but nowhere near where I needed to be.
The good news was I knew the rescue was not completed and the man in the trees was talking to rescuers which meant he was conscious and alert. I still had time to get there.
Then I went to the scene but the way the day was going with my geography continued and I went to the wrong side of the rescue operation. Police were there and I was told where the press was located and how to get there. Of course that was another ten minutes away. In the meantime from radio chatter I knew the rescue was not imminent.
I was one of the last TV stations there but I had a plan. The first thing I said to the group was I think I can get us into the rescue operation and if I did I would be the pool photographer. They all agreed. I knew a couple of the Chiefs operating at the scene from the many fire related incidents I have gone to over the years and most fire chiefs realize the use of good public relations and when this rescue was completed it had all the markings of great work and a good training exercise for their review. I wanted to be involved.
In the meantime Kelly Tuthill had arrived with one of our satellite trucks. For over an hour we were all shooting what we thought was the parachute and rescuers through the trees. Most of our video camera displays are viewed through a black and white viewfinder so trying to figure out what was a branch and what was the parachute was very difficult. I would pick a branch or two with my bare eyes and then try and find it through the viewfinder. Thankfully I did not have to rely on this footage for our final product.
One of the Fire Chiefs came out and said they were ready for the pool photographer and it would be me. I grabbed my video camera, tripod, IPhone, digital camera for stills, extra batteries and tape. I then asked Brian Foley the Chief Photographer at WBZ if he would like to join me.
When we got into the scene the dreaded yellow tape was up but it was only up to show us where we could be. We had a great location, able to move around and see everything you could see but the tree branches were an issue from certain angles.
The rescuers were finishing putting their ropes and pulleys in place, talking to the parachutist, Andrew Stack. Brian and I were running around trying to cover all the angles. I was shooting with three cameras to begin with and Brian asked if he could help and I handed him the tripod and video camera. It was great and more fun for me to shoot stills and I knew Brian would do a great job.
We were in the woods probably about 15 minutes and I likened what they were doing to what I saw when I was in the woods in Manchester By The Sea after the Hood Blimp landed in their woods. Back then I did not have a great still camera but the video was terrific. This time both still and video images were very good and of course the best part in both incidents the men were rescued without serious injury. No injuries for the Hood Blimp Pilot and only leg injuries for the parachutist.
After the rescue one of the Chiefs talked with us and adding that a new high angle rescue unit has recently been training and what they have learned was used in this rescue. There were a couple of professional parachutists that came over from the airport who had gone in the woods to help find the victim and talked with him. They described what they believed happened. They both thought it was user error.
Back at the office I talked with Karen Lippert a photographer I work with who has done over 1100 jumps and this is her description from watching and reading the stories that went with the incident;
“The victim was a newly licensed skydiver who lost altitude awareness and deployed his canopy late. Because he was late in deploying his canopy he did not have the altitude or time to navigate his way back to the drop zone and ended up in the trees.”
Kelly and I went to Lowell General Hospital from there waiting to see if we could talk with the victim or his wife but nothing happened the first day. We went back up another day and still nothing then on the third day Andrew Stack agreed to talk to us (so we would leave him alone).
He was great explaining exactly what he thought happened and he felt his hand altimeter had not functioned correctly thus he did not deploy his chute on time. Luckily his automatic chute did. He knew he was a lucky man and we joked about his next jump which he hoped would be in the spring if his wife lets him.
I have been in contact with Andrew via email and I hope to be invited when he does his next jump, it should be fun!
For 44 years this past week I have been covering the news of the day around New England, mostly in Boston. I have tried to capture the moment of many news events and most of them were not happy stories.
Personally, when I photograph a story I always try not to portray a victim as “a victim”. I don’t perform brain surgery or save lives directly, but I hope that some of my images might have changed a life for the positive, or made someone feel better about what is happening or has happened without hurting those directly involved in the story along the way.
This past July, Tammi Brownlee (full story on website) contacted me about an image I took in January, 1977. It was a long time ago but fortunately I had the negatives and was able to help Tammi and do a couple of great news stories along the way.
I received an email this morning which I want to share. For me, it sort of makes the photos I have taken that have caused people pain when looking at them worthwhile. Tammi has given me permission to share but first I will tell you about my great day, Thursday.
Steve Lacy, a WCVB-TV reporter, and I traveled to Tammi’s home to interview her and her brother David Gladu whom she has spent more than half her life searching for to do a Thanksgiving story for the 6 o’clock news. We were both very excited about the story but of course who knew how good it would look on air?
We arrived to a happy home where Tammi and her two children Chris and Ashley along with her boyfriend Chad were getting ready for Thanksgiving and her brother David along with his wife Tina would be joining in the dinner.
The day was both fun and sad but more importantly it was a remembrance of how bad life can be and then how good it can become. We learned a lot from the conversations. I knew Tammi had been searching for a half brother and sister since her teenage years but I did not know that her brother David had no idea that Tammi existed.
He told us he had been given up for adoption when he was two along with his sister Eleanor who was one at the time. He spent a few years in foster care and was adopted when he was six. He had no idea that Eleanor existed until he was around fifteen years old and then his search began. He got nowhere and finally stopped the active search.
Tammi found out in her teens that her brother and sister existed and she continued the search for more than half her life. David only learned about Tammi in the last couple of months. Tammi found him on October 7th this year after she had found Eleanor a few months before.
It was a really feel good story. I don’t cover that many of those types of stories and Steve did a wonderful job of putting it out for viewers. Here I have been thinking what a wonderful thing this has been for me and today I got this email which makes it all worthwhile.
I am so glad to be able to meet my brother and sister this year! I am pleased with the videos that were done for both my sister and me and my brother and me as well! I have been thinking a lot about the book I have written and even though I have not come up with a proper name for it yet (it will come to me) I have thought about how I want the cover of the book to look. The picture that you took of the firefighter carrying me I think would be a perfect one to use, one of the titles I have thought of is “Out of the Fire and Ashes”, this one stays with me. What do you think?
Thank you so much for helping me, your excitement kept me going, where years past I would give up and wait till I had the strength to search again, but you gave me the perseverance to stick with it longer and that is how I was able to find them. I will always be grateful to you for that! It has been hard to write my story, as I have buried almost all of my memories to protect myself, most of them are not good. But my ending is perfect! David, Eleanor and I are planning a time already of when we can all get together; I still need a picture of all three of us!
I hope you have a great day!
Please visit my website for the links to the stories about the Southie Fire 1977.