I have a new hobby. I didn't think that I would find something to take up so much of my time that I truly enjoy, but I have. Photography. Strangely enough though not digital photography, but conventional SLR photography with a camera that out-dates me by 2 years. I find that this is yet another thing that I can do that makes me forget about my MS and all that it has brought to the table, and for a few minutes or a few hours I am completely normal again.
A few weeks ago I was searching Craigslist just to see what interesting items I could find for sale. After all, it is Craigslist, you could probably find a lung for sale on there if you searched long enough. What I found was a 1977 Minolta camera with a crap load of accessories to include 4 lenses. I have not used a SLR camera since the early 1990s, and wasn't even 100% sure that I would be able to locate film in a modern day store, but the deal was so awesome and I was so intrigued that I made the purchase. For once, with a Craiglist purchase, I was not disappointed in the least. I LOVE this camera, and immediately started taking pictures of all that I could. Of course, I did forget how to properly load the film a few times and had some lovely blank rolls developed by my local CVS (thankfully they don't charge for blank rolls).
Now that I have my trusty camera, several rolls of film at the ready, and the desire to use them all, I have found my new volunteer career that allows me to return to my heart's original passion: the fire service. Due to being retired and the kids being in school during the day, I find that I can listen to the fire radio and when I hear a call go out that I am close to can go to the scene and take photographs of the fire/rescue crews at work. This allows me to be somewhat involved in the fire service again, and my heart has been singing!
This past Saturday I was sitting in Charlottesville and noticed a lot of smoke coming from across the railroad tracks from where I was. Thinking that perhaps one of the frat houses over that way might have been having a BBQ after the UVA football game, I really didn't think much of it. That is until the smell of burning wires, metal, and rubber touched my nostrils and immediately I turned on the fire radio and grabbed my camera bag out of the trunk of my car. I walked over to the edge of the railroad tracks and could see the first engine company arrive on scene of a vehicle fire. I immediately began snapping pictures. I even deftly changed lenses before the crew could do an action that I would regret missing as they worked to extinguish the fire. I even heard the crowd that was gathered near me mention how fast the newspaper photographer had arrived thinking that I was a professional instead of some cripple who just happens to enjoy taking photographs.
The next day I went up to my local fire station here in Madison because I was told by the Safety Officer there that they were having an open house on Sunday and that I was more than welcome to come and check it out. I stopped by Wal-Mart and picked up a few more rolls of film, and headed over to the station. It looked as though they had a fairly good crowd, and all their apparatus were proudly outside of the station and on display. I began at the front of the station taking some pics of the old engine that was their main piece. As I moved around the side of the house, I took more pics of their other apparatus both new and old. When I got to the back of the station I was amazed at what I saw. There were different "stations" set up for the kids and adults to see and experience. They had hoses out that the kids could use to feel what it is like to be a nozzleman. They had a pit that they would ignite and let the kids use a real fire extinguisher on. They had a "turnout station" where adults and kids could see and try on the gear that is used in structural and forestry fire fighting operations. They also had a small room built that they put Christmas trees in to demonstrate Christmas tree fires.
Around this time my wife and kids returned from their weekend church retreat and joined me at the open house. The kids went immediately to the Mule (ATV used in some types of fire operations and forestry fire fighting) that had several "train cars" attached to it. I continued to take pics of all that was going on. I especially liked the little boy who turned the hose on the fire fighter operating the hose station. I got some awesome pics of the kids, including my own, going through the different stations and experiencing what my former career entailed. Then came time for the real action.
Everyone gathered at the top of the hill for the Christmas tree fire demonstration. As the trees were put into the "room" and an accellerant was added to get the trees to ignite, I began taking shot after shot of the fires progression. I even was allowed to get within feet of the fire since by then the guys there knew who I was and that I could handle myself. I was able to take some amazing pictures of the fire and some of the kids using the hose at the top of the hill to apply some "fog water" on the blaze.
That evening I took all 6 rolls of film to my CVS for developing. The girl that I often deal with there was amazed at the pictures of the vehicle fire I brought in the day before, and I told her that these would be even more intense. Whilst I waited the 2 hours for them to be developed, I went to a spot that I go to often to get wi-fi access on my laptop and decided to send the pictures of the vehicle fire to the Chief of the City of Charlottesville Fire and Rescue Department. Within 15 minutes of sending them I received a response from him informing me that he sent the pictures onto his PIO (Public Information Officer) so that they could be posted on the department's Facebook site. He also invited me to a personal tour of their newest station that is currently under construction. It felt great to be invited and to receive such great admiration for the pictures that I took of his crew in action.
I went and retrieved the newest rolls of film from CVS and went home. I didn't even look at the pictures because I wanted to be surprised with my wife when we looked at them together. Once I got home I gave her the bag of pictures and asked her to give me her thoughts on them. I really wanted to know if they turned out as well as I hoped that they had. I soon had my answer, and a complete boost to my curiosity as to whether or not I had "the eye" for photography. A large majority of the pictures came out with amazing results. Some have a blackened top to the picture which I will seek assistance to prevent in the future by having my camera looked at by a professional camera repair shop. I will also attach some of the photos at the end of this blog for you to judge for yourself.
Today I brought the pictures to on of the Lieutenants at Madison Volunteer Fire Company so that they had copies of all the pictures to do with them as they pleased. They were very happy and even though I have repeatedly turned down their offers to join the department, I was invited to come to the station to "hang out" any time I wish. I have also offered to respond to any service calls they have and take pictures of their crews in action which they said they will gladly accept. They are even going to reprogram my Minitor pager (fire pager that announces dispatch calls and station tones) so that I can hear the calls for the station and respond from home. I basically have my foot back in the fire house door, but in a completely different capacity than ever before and I actually am excited about it.
MS may have been a career ending disease for me 3 years ago, but today it has allowed me to follow another path that puts me in touch with my former career. To some such a change might feel like a slap in the face, but to me it feels like I am slapping MS in the face by adapting myself to my new situation and making the best out of it. No matter what this life has brought me, I feel as though I have been able to improvise, adapt, and overcome which has always been the motto of the fire service. This may not be exactly the life that I chose, but it is something like it...