Post by Jason Plotkin
The very first weekend I picked up a camera for a newspaper and covered a car accident, someone came up to me and bluntly said, “If you don’t stop taking pictures, I’m going to shove that camera up your ass.” At that point, I put my camera down and walked away from the scene.
A man I used to intern with, once told me not to get into an argument with emotional people when you are covering an emotional incident. These could be car accidents, fires, shootings or any number of scenes where it is difficult for people to keep their emotions in check. He explained to me, that arguing with people who are already upset only makes things worse. First, I could end up losing a game of “Where is Jason’s camera?” Also, I’m not there to upset people. I’m there to document a scene and inform the public.
Over the years, I’ve been pushed, punched, shoved, spit on and cursed at. So when I pull up to a scene, there are a number of reactions I could receive from either victims or people working the scene.
So, this morning, when I went over to do a follow up on the North West Street 4-alarm row home fire, I wasn’t sure how people would react to me. There were five houses affected, with some people totally losing everything in a fire that was later determined to be arson.
When I rolled up at 5:30 am, I ran into a couple who had seven children. They were both polite to me, but asked me not to take any photos or video of them because of their religion. They are Mennonites. I asked them if I could do an audio recording so I could get their story and they very politely answered any questions I had.
Next, I ran into a woman whose house was still livable, but had taken on severe smoke damage in the upper levels of her home. She was more than polite and had spent a good deal of time helping me with any questions and information I needed about the fire and the makeup of the neighborhood.
At the time I met her, she was helping out her neighbor Tracy Adams. Tracy’s home was next to the empty row home where the fire had been started. When I asked her how bad the damage was to her home, she said, “Everything is gone.” Tracy was obviously upset, and in desperate need of a cigarette. After an initial interview for a video, Tracy said she didn’t want me to use any of the photos or video I had gotten of her, including the interview. She wasn’t rude or threatening, just upset and in shock.
I put my camera down and just talked with her for a while. We talked about the fire and the craziness of the night. We talked about her kids, who were not with her when this happened. She talked about what a great job the fire department and Red Cross did for her. The entire time, my camera was at my side.
At one point, during our earlier interview, Tracy asked me “How do I start over?”
I asked her if I could give her two pieces of humble advice. My first was, lean on the Red Cross. This excellent organization has seen and been through more tragedies than I can imagine. They can help think of things to help a person rebuild a life that would never cross a mind under normal conditions, never mind during a time when it is near impossible to think straight.
Second, and with even more humility, I advised her to use the media. I told her that if she wanted to get the word out about her situation, the newspapers and television news stations could help her do that. We talked a little while longer and then she told me that I could use the photos and footage I had of her.
Lastly, I asked her for her cell phone number, so we could check in with her at a later point to see how she was doing. She gave it to me. All three of the people I talked to gave me their phone numbers so we could update the story of their stories.
Considering the circumstances, everyone could not have been nicer and more polite to me at this terrible fire scene. And best of all, I walked out of there with my camera placed firmly in my hands.
To see Tracy’s story, please watch the video below. To continue to follow the story check out this link