Columbia Road Fire Rescue

click here to purchase images

The Story Behind the Photos

September 1986,

I was on vacation and when we are on vacation from the TV station you turn in your company vehicle and equipment for someone else to use while they work your shift. Since I am never without a camera whether it is still or video it really doesn’t matter to me as I am usually prepared. In 1986 I had my 35mm camera with me. Now I have both still and video cameras with me.

Canton, Massachusetts was my earlier destination to play poker with friends from the office. There was Neil Ungerleider, Gary Griffith and Ed Segal a TV writer from the Boston Globe. We were playing dealer’s choice and as usual I was not winning any money.

Around eleven-thirty I decided it was time to leave as I had planned to meet my good friend Al “Moe” LaPorte to do some cruising for news. Moe was a Revere Firefighter and we had gone out for decades at least once a week chasing calls. I told the group where I was going and that I was going out to win another Pulitzer and they all laughed.

Below is an article from the NPPA National Magazine, January 1987. A night’s work for Stanley Forman

I started the night off with my firefighter friend Al LaPorte about 11:30 p.m. As usual we got the morning papers and some coffee—I drink decaf because I don’t want to be up all night.

We chased a couple of police calls and a few false alarms and then we went to Revere to a murder scene but I didn’t even take a picture. As we were cruising I started to wonder how I used to do this all night long waiting for the sunrise. It has been almost four years since I worked for The Boston Herald. In television now, I put in such a long day I don’t really have the energy to cruise all night long.

About 1:30 A.M., I said goodnight to Moe—his nickname – and started to head home, debating which way to go. If I chose Washington Street it would take me through the center of Boston putting me within good striking distance to anywhere.

But I took Columbia Road, my usual route, thinking that this time I didn’t have my company vehicle with all the scanners, just our family car with one scanner plugged into the cigarette lighter. My wife Debbie won’t let me make a permanent installation in this car.

As I drove through Eddie Everett Square, waving to some ambulance drivers I know and getting a wave back, I thought, “They don’t even know who it is in this car.”

A few hundred yards after the square I smelled smoke and debated whether or not to alert those ambulance drivers, I decided it was probably the smell of a burning car or something from the junkyards nearby. But I continued to smell it and thought I saw smoke in the distance. Or maybe it was just dirty windows. Either way, smoke and fire were on my mind.

Within a few minutes I spotted a fire. I heard sirens and started to look for a firebox to call in the alarm. Then I realized I might have to go into a building to alert residents. As I pulled up to the house I spotted a police car in front, blue lights blazing and cops banging on doors.

I continued to look for a firebox, thinking the police didn’t have time to alert the dispatcher. I finally made up my mind that the fire department had to know.

I looked for a parking space. There were plenty around but I got particular. I crossed over Columbia Road, heading back towards town, and pulled into a space and decided it was too near a fire hydrant. I pulled across Columbia Road again and started to go past the burning building. As I looked up, a man jumped off the porch roof and I saw there were still others up there.

I thought to myself, “Well, I blew that one.” Remember that this is all taking place within 30 seconds to a minute. I finally parked about 40 feet from the building, jumped out of the car with my Olympus camera with a 35mm lens on it and a 135 in my hand. The flash was attached to the camera. I flipped it on as I got out of the car. I knew I was synched for strobe but double checked to make sure anyway.

When I got to the house, I realized there was a man, woman and child still on the roof and police and neighbors were screaming for them to toss the baby. I immediately picked my spot but it wasn’t the best. It was a side yard situation with a building to the left of me. I knew they didn’t need me in the yard to get in the way so I crouched down and thought to myself, “Think, take your time, don’t panic and remember the strobe takes six seconds to recycle.”

I didn’t want to waste a frame. I took a picture to establish where everyone was. They began to lower the baby and I waited and waited, until the father let the baby go. I still waited longer and thought to myself, “NOW.”

Then I thought the woman would be next, thinking the strobe might not be ready but I have to try – no way am I going to pull the camera from my eye to look for the ready light. I either have it or I don’t.

The woman panicked and fell in to what was now roaring flames. I took two frames of this – it was stupid of me to take the second one, I thought, but she looked liked she was going to be burned alive. Her boyfriend then pushed her off the roof. I saw it coming and waited again and shot when I thought it was right.

To tell you the truth, as I looked at the picture I had thought I shot a spot later – no complaining now. Then I just knew the strobe wouldn’t be back up for him but he walked backwards and took a running leap. BANG!

After this, I tried to compose myself. I began thinking about what had just happened and how hot it was from the fire. I was afraid to look into the side yard – not knowing what I’d see. I did not know what anybody’s condition was. I heard people yelling, “Let’s get them out of here.” When I saw them dragging the woman – I still didn’t know about the baby and the man – I took one frame and retreated to the street.

All of a sudden the area was lit up with blue and red lights. I saw the command car of the health and hospital ambulances and went running toward it and signaling that at least three ambulances were needed.

When I turned around to head back to where the injured were, out walked the cop who had caught the baby. I started thinking that he’s acting like the kid was his own, the way he was hugging him. And the 11-month-old boy was holding the cop like he had known him forever.

The fire department arrived as the building roared. I took a picture of the woman being treated and more of the cop and baby but at this point I was starting to think about the pictures. Everyone was alive and it appeared as if they didn’t have any life-threatening injuries.

The other photographers arrived and started taking pictures of the injured and the fire. I told one photographer, what I had taken and asked him to do me a favor and develop my film – even though I would be taking it to the Associated Press for transmitting.

I then walked away from the scene – having made them take the injured woman to the ambulance. I was trying to figure how I could get the film developed without waking up the AP boss. It was 3 a.m. and I didn’t want to wake him up not knowing for sure if I had the pictures. Remember I knew I took them but wasn’t sure until I saw the film whether they came out.

I walked up to a phone booth and called The Globe and then the AP to see if anyone was around. No one. So I woke a friend and asked him. He had trouble waking up. Then I finally got hold of another friend and got him to soup the film.

It was now 3:45 a.m. I called AP again and got Vinny Alabiso’s home number. He answered on one ring. We exchanged good mornings and I told him what I had and I needed someone to print for me for the television station’s 5:30 a.m. eye opener show.

He had me call him back and within five minutes AP staffer Dave Tannenbaum was on the way in. I met Dave about 4:20 at the office and he went to work printing. He notified the AP New York bureau of what he had and within a few minutes he had a print on the wire and prints for me.

The station had a taxi standing by. We missed the 5:30 opener but they teased the fact that there were spectacular pictures coming from News Center 5’s Stanley Forman on 35mm film and they would have them for the 6 a.m. show.