Follow instinct, stay focused

The Baltimore Sun

Reporter Nicole Fuller and I left out the rear of the Sun building just after 7:30 last Wednesday morning, headed for a story at Penn Station, but I was drawn to smoke that rose northeast of the building. Fuller agreed that we should investigate, and followed in her car as we searched for the fire scene.

Battling rerouted traffic, we finally parked on 20th Street, heading east toward Kennedy Avenue, as the smoke dissipated, leading me to think that perhaps the fire might not have been that big.

Suddenly, several firefighters emerged from an alley behind Cecil Avenue with a stretcher, wheeling a lifeless subject. I pressed the "record" button on my camcorder, capturing just a glimpse as they applied CPR to the victim while climbing into an emergency vehicle.

Two firefighters sprinted through the alley headed for a nearby rowhouse, and I turned my attention to the front of the home. Several females emerged, stopping behind an emergency vehicle to talk with police.

Zooming in to make certain that they were indeed part of the story, I saw the singed hair on the back of the head of a girl, who appeared about 3 years old. She showed no emotions as her eyes gazed about, her cheek dirtied with a smudge of soot. One woman paced back and forth, her lower arms bandaged after suffering apparent burns.

I used my high-definition camcorder to record the scene, including expressions of the bystanders who witnessed the event. With these tragic events unfolding, some might wonder how I could remain composed.

In fact, I work to control my emotions when shooting. I regularly remind myself: "Shoot first and ask questions later."

Opportunities to capture compelling images flash by in seconds, and I knew it was important to stay focused, keeping in mind that I'd have time to let my feelings catch up when it was over.

That focus helped me and other Sun photographers document some of the powerful emotions that came out of one of the deadliest fires in the city's history.

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