Monday, January 17, 2011

Grace Under Fire

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What's worse than witnessing a deadly explosion? Having a fancycam by your side and NOT capturing the blast. It's easier than you might think - missing the shot, that is. Lenses don't affix themselves to the action; they're schlepped, aimed and activated by folks who do a lot more than loiter under glass. Just ask Geoff Nichols. The NBC10 photojournalist was on the scene of a damaged gas main in the Tacony Section of Philadelphia Tuesday Night when the sky turned to fire.
"I had my hand on the camera and it almost threw me back."
But Geoff managed to hold on and using instincts honed by experience, he reflexively zoomed OUT. It may not sound like much, but when a giant plume of exploding gas appears before you, the right finger-twitch is a monumental movement. I know next to nothing about Geoff Nichols, but judging from his performance, I can tell you this wasn't his first gas leak. Tragically, it WAS a 19 year old PGW employee's last such encounter. His body was found after the fire was brought under control. Four other employees and a firefighter were also hospitalized.
"Those guys are really unsung heroes ... they deal with a lot of dangerous stuff all the time."
That's Geoff Nichols again, describing victims of the blast during his obligatory live shot. Those of us lift lenses for a living do so because we like it there. Stepping in front of the camera to talk about the last moment of another person's life isn't something we volunteer for - if only because we know how badly it can go. But Geoff did his beleaguered breed proud, adopting just the right tone to depict the blast recorded in an instant without further wounding those who will forever suffer its aftermath. That's more than jabbing at a button. It's retaining your humanity.

We should all be so nimble.

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