The story behind the cover photo

The power­ful photo on the cov­er of this week’s North­east Times was taken by vet­er­an pho­to­graph­er Peter To­bia from the roof of his home in Queen Vil­lage. News out­lets from as far away as Lon­don have used the im­age of the two fire­fight­ers huddled against the heat and flames as part of their cov­er­age of the death of Phil­adelphia Fire Capt. Mi­chael Good­win. The im­age ap­peared first in The In­quirer and then was dis­trib­uted via the As­so­ci­ated Press.

To­bia was asked how he was able to take the series of im­ages and wheth­er he knew at the time that there had been a fatal­ity. Here is his e-mail re­sponse:

“I heard lots of sirens on late Sat­urday af­ter­noon as I played out­side with my son Emer­son, 8. People go­ing through our court­yard said they were see­ing a lot of smoke as fire trucks were ar­riv­ing. My son and I de­cided to go up on the roof of our home.

“There was one row of homes between our house and the fire at Fourth and Fitzwa­ter streets and we could see huge amounts of smoke com­ing from the struc­ture that was on fire. We then no­ticed two fire­men on the roof of the burn­ing build­ing as they walked around as­sess­ing the situ­ation.

“Minutes went by when we no­ticed flames blaz­ing from the struc­ture along with thick smoke. As the flames grew, the fire­men seemed to use the small struc­ture seen in the pho­to­graph to shield them­selves from the flames. 

“I took pic­tures the whole time as events un­fol­ded, know­ing the im­ages of the fire­men be­hind the struc­ture showed the danger and vul­ner­ab­il­ity of fire­men do­ing what they do. At that point, the in­tens­ity of the fire was very ap­par­ent.  I was think­ing the roof might cave [in] and they should get off of it.”

To­bia said it wasn’t un­til about 9 that night that he heard from news teams in the area that not all of the fire­men were ac­coun­ted for, and that a cap­tain might be miss­ing. He later learned that the body of the fallen fire­fight­er had been pulled from the wreck­age and was on its way to Jef­fer­son Hos­pit­al.

He called it “a very sad situ­ation for fam­ily, friends and the fire de­part­ment com­munity.”

To­bia worked as a pho­to­graph­er for The In­quirer for 15 years, cov­er­ing loc­al, na­tion­al and in­ter­na­tion­al as­sign­ments. ••

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