Chicago Sun-Times photographer Scott Stewart has been a life-long Blackhawks fan, growing up with Makita and Hull as names he idolized. So it was a perk of the job that on the night of Tuesday, January 22, he was at the United Center, shooting photos of the Blackhawks' home-opener against the St. Louis Blues. But he wouldn't get to stay until the final horn; before the game ended, he received a call to cover a large fire that had broken out a large South Side warehouse. Hockey would have to wait.
But rushing to the fire, too, was something that was in Stewart's blood, the result of his being a firefighter brought up in a family of firefighters. "Just like in [the movie] Backdraft," he quips. Stewart is part of the Evergreen Park Fire Department, heading up the photo unit and also serving as a fire investigator. A third-generation fireman, Stewart's son is a lieutenant in the Blue Island Fire Department, his other two children are also firefighter/EMTs, and his wife, who he met through the fire department, is the assistant photographer to the photo unit.
Watching the Chicago Fire Department battle the huge blaze - roughly one-third of the department as called in - Stewart could sympathize with what they were going through, battling extreme heat in extremely cold temperatures. "You're hampered. The weather hampers your ability to be a firefighter. The radiant heat ... it does give you a little warm feeling now and then if the wind is shifting the right way." And it's this understanding that keeps Stewart involved as part of the 5-11 Club, a sixty-year-old organization that provides additional support for the Chicago Fire and Police Departments, mainly by driving canteen vehicles to fire scenes to give exhausted firefighters refreshments like coffee and food.
The remains of the warehouse gained notoriety later in the week once the water used by firefighters froze, creating a majestic ice castle out of the ruins. But Stewart was on the scene for the Sun-Times while the fire still raged so I sat down with him to get his take on what happened. I talked to him about what it was like, as a firefighter, to photograph a fire for the publication and how he approached shooting the fire. How did he approach his shots? How is his approach different at fires than at other events? We looked through some of his photos from that night and talked all about it. Watch the audio slideshow above to hear Scott explain