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. ••