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Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Stand-by Unit 10:
POV of a Chicago Photojournalist

Whoa. Clueless until you see the bus leaving the curb across the street, now it is certain you might be a little late. The cold rain wakes you up second by second as you move through the air and you turn your face up to gladly dose on Nature’s Caffeine.

You get into the hot taxi and try and settle into your morning routine. The cabbie’s spicy aroma and braking style stirs up nauseous whiplash as you pull out some needles and yarn. Focusing on the task at hand is attempted and seeking to improve your odds you clean your glasses, not once but twice, because everything is foggy. One more quick jolt at a stop sign then the taxi pulls away leaving your stomach behind but your brain firmly locked onto the idea it’s not your glasses but your EYES that are really dirty.

You were at a huge fire the night before and somehow even though you were in the direct line of smoke and debris, you are unwilling to tolerate the fact that you might have some bad job hangover. All the experts have told you that you are NOT supposed to take it home with you. Even when your clothes smell so weird they walk themselves out to the trash, you are in denial. It is happening to other people not you, even when you’re standing right next to them.

The flames shooting out of the high-rise windows look especially fierce through your telephoto lens. People from the restaurant across the street fill the sidewalk around you and stand gawking at the workers rushing out of the building. We are fascinated by their tears and when they tear their hair we marvel because that’s something you see only in the movies. The reek of burning office equipment is joined by the cigar smoke of sidewalk diners and the fumes of the diesel powered firetrucks which suddenly are everywhere.

The fire department helicopter is overhead pouring light onto the black wall of smoke to guide the jetstreams of water but its wings fan the smoke down the building onto the street. And yet people do not move.

When glass and debris come flying out the windows above, the mass finally runs for cover. The firemen and police are now in force and they dispatch the stragglers straight away from the danger and you marvel at the resistance. You marvel when the firebugs show up and start recording the event for their scrapbooks. A non-fireman in a CFD uniform jacket covered with souvenir medallions and badges badgers you for the private phone number of your reporter so he can give him some hot fire tip. His eyes seem even brighter than the flames overhead and you move away, at last, yourself.

Six hours later, when the fire is officialy struck, you walk your 65lbs. of gear and yourself the half-mile back to where you left your van. When you tell the cop standing next to the 5 trucks surrounding it you will drive it on the sidewalk to leave the scene, he grimaces then just starts laughing in your general direction because that’s probably the only funny thing he’s heard all night. You’ve never heard NO delivered with more glee…

The next morning, when you get dropped off at the impound lot, you jump out into the rain and pull on the gloves you grabbed as you rushed out the door that morning and begin your new day.


Like the rest of it, they just make sense.

25 responses to “Wednesday, December 8, 2004”

  1. claudia says:

    I was wondering whether the video of the fire fed to my local news were yours.

  2. Wendy says:

    What Claudia said. I thought of you when I saw this reported on the news.

  3. Marg says:

    And you do this for a *living*?! Wow!

  4. jackie says:

    What an exciting and exhausting career you have. I think you need a break sometime soon! You know, like in a cafe eating a croissant, if you know what I mean.

  5. Amanda says:

    This was the best coverage of the fire. I feel for you that you were one of those people out there from 6:30 until 10(?). I was one of those people who kept thinking, “If only there was more to the story to justify it being on as long as it was…” I think insight like what you wrote could have justified it…

  6. Mim says:

    I’m with Claudia and Wendy. When I saw that on the news, my first thought was “I hope everyone is OK” my second was “I wonder if Bonnie Marie was there filming”.


  7. maggi says:

    Me, too, girlfriend ~ as soon as I heard of the fire, I knew you were shooting it, and that you would give us the insider POV. Bless your bones for your good, and sometimes both physically and spiritually grueling, work.

  8. mia says:

    I never thought about how much your gear weighs! As a firefighter, our gear weighs about the same when we are wearing the airpaks and complete turnout gear. When reporters give us fair and accurate coverage, we love you!! I hope you recover from the smoke damage soon!

  9. Michelle says:

    Wow…You must be exhausted.. I watched that footage…it must have been intense to be there in person!

  10. jeanne says:

    Truly, Bonne Marie, doesn’t your union have some health care provision for you guys, especially after an assignment like this? At the very least, can’t you get checked out for smoke inhalation? And with glass flying everywhere and the general war-zone atmosphere, one could possibly make a case for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    Please talk to your union rep. It’s fine to wind down and tell us about it, but we can’t actually help you.

  11. Meg says:

    I was thinking of you when I saw the pictures on the news. What a harrowing experience. I’d think you’d have the next day off after something like that at the least. What a world.

  12. Bonne Marie says:

    Thanks, Jeanne! I’m fine with just some rough edges. This is business as usual with my job – we go all over the place and like any really physical task, sometimes there are leftovers. Just part of the landscape…

    This wasn’t meant to be a cry for help but just a slice of life behind the lens…

    I truly appreciate your concern :)

  13. Celia says:

    Fantastic first-person account of the fire. And the footage was spectacular. Take it easy today – if you can.

  14. carolyn says:

    dude. i am actually truly surprised you didn’t see me AS I WAS STILL AT WORK in the building across the street for most of the fire!!! until i finally left around 10 p.m. and then i had to walk all the way over to franklin to get a cab and now every day, i get stopped a full block away from my office at mcdonald’s and have to prove why it is that i need to come this close to the fire site. i’m like hey! i work there! right across the frickin street. good thing someone called to tell me about it or i would have been really freaked out when i tried to leave the building! next time call me. you can come up and have some hot chocolate in my office!! :) (obviously i assume all fires in the loop will happen right across the street from me!)

  15. miriam says:

    I wondered last night as i was watching the fire if you were there. what network do you work for?
    I showed up at a tennis tourny with two right shoes one time. They actually delayed the match because everyone could relate.

  16. Becky says:

    I love these slice of life views you share with us. I could only dream of having such an exciting career! I bet no two days are the same.

  17. Heidi says:

    I’m so glad to hear you are safe & relatively unscathed. I assumed you were out there. What a nightmare!

  18. margene says:

    I thought you might be busy with the fire. So glad you are now safe and warm.

  19. Chelee says:

    When I heard of the fire in Chicago on the radio I thought of you. I’m glad your safe and your only mishap is two right handed gloves. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Vickie says:

    As I watched the Chicago news (I’ve no idea why we get it in western PA) and worked on yet another camo bucket for the grab bag, I sent a prayer for safety your way. Am happy to hear that you are fine. I too have a sometimes harrowing job so I can appreciate the rough edges. I just wish I also had such snazzy gloves.

  21. Bonne Marie says:

    Western PA! Wow – must’ve been cable or a super station…

    I know the story might have been of national interest because of a similar fire here last year where many folks died. There have been investigations and lots of commitee work on improving High-Rise Safety downtown. Most of the pre-80’s buildings have no sprinklers or fire plans whatsoever.

    I think the firemen Monday night were very heroic and bravely sacrificed themselves for the good of the people in the building. Many firemen were injured – at one point, trolley after trolley came out of the building – I think 12 in all.

    My heart just wells up with gratitude for all the people willing to put themselves on the line for all of us…

  22. Ann says:

    Reading your recap helped me to understand what DS went through the same day. He covered a fire (in which two little girls died) for our local cable channel. Since he’s rarely willing to talk about these sad stories, your blogging was oh, so helpful!

  23. Bonne Marie says:

    I know, Anne – many people, including me, have a hard time talking about these things with friends and family. Cops, firemen, EMTs, ER, media folks – they all witness things on a daily basis that are just too weird and sometimes disturbing to share. Even when I talk casually about events I’ve witnessed, like water cooler chat about how your day went, sometimes people get upset and frightened by it. People just think you’re nuts. Good on you for listening and supporting your DS!

  24. Melissa G says:

    Yeah, it’s amazing what people do day to day, hour to hour and just keep going. Hope those glove are at least waterproof. Glam jobs often aren’t when examined more closely.

  25. Melissa G says:

    But I forgot to mention you probably have the craziest stories–bonus there. Watching people in action is …

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