Dempster Hall Fire

SEMO Dempster Fire 07-15-2013I’ve given up chasing sirens, but I couldn’t help but notice a big column of black smoke in town this afternoon. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

A few years back, I pointed to smoke off in the distance to a friend of mine who was married to a newspaper photographer. She said, “There are two kinds of people in the world who see smoke: firefighters and photographers.”

The Cape fire department has been doing some practice burns, so I assumed that’s what it was until I got closer and saw it was coming from near the middle of Southeast Missouri State University. The school has a propensity for tearing down landmark structures to build parking lots, but it usually doesn’t turn on its own.

Localized plume

SEMO Dempster Fire 07-15-2013When I first rolled up, the plume of smoke was fairly localized, but it didn’t take long before it looked like it might be spreading. It had the look of a roofing tar fire to me. They burn hot and black and spread as the tar turns to liquid. I was told the building was undergoing some maintenance work, so that wouldn’t surprise me.

Pulling hose

SEMO Dempster Fire 07-15-2013They had positioned the ladder truck where they could get a look at what they were dealing with, but hadn’t tied into a hydrant yet.

There was a white-shirted officer standing with his back to the pumper when it started backing up. I kept waiting for him to move, but there was so much noise he must not have heard it coming, and he must have been in the truck’s blind spot. At the last second, I hollered “HEY!!!” as loud as I could and the truck stopped. Either he became aware of the man behind him or he heard my shout.

A bystander commented, “I thought he was going to run over that guy.” So did I.

 Where are my Missourian buddies?

SEMO Dempster Fire 07-15-2013I kept looking around for Fred or Laura from The Missourian, but didn’t spot them. I made a courtesy call to Fred, but got his voice mail. “Maybe I’ll have a chance to make the paper”, I thought.

I’d love to frame a $5 check from The Missourian for old times’ sake. It would drive the accounting department crazy when it didn’t clear.

I was living at home when I worked for the paper, so I had minimal expenses. Every few weeks, John Mehrle from accounting would come up and ask me to cash my paychecks so they could balance the books. That was the LAST time I ever had that luxury.

The high point of the day was when a cop came and pushed the onlookers back, but walked right past me. I guess carrying real cameras still makes you look like you belong.

No sale

SEMO Dempster Fire 07-15-2013Once they got the master stream playing on the fire from the ladder, the black smoke quickly turned white, then disappeared. It was all over except for mop-up and investigation.

I headed home to edit my film. Drat, The Missourian’s website already had a decent photo up that was tagged “Submitted by Alicia Lincoln.”

“Submitted by” is code for “We got it for free.”

I stopped by to see Editor Bob Miller, who liked a couple of the shots. “Are you giving them to us?” he asked.

“I’d like to get the same token $5 per shot I got in 1963,” I said.

“We can give you credit”

“We can give you credit,” he countered.

“That’s my problem: I have lots of credit. I just don’t have any money to pay the credit card bills when they come due.”

When I shot my first real newspaper photos in 1963, I got a front page byline and a check for $10 in the mail the next day. I wonder if I would have been ruined for honest work had that unexpected check not come? Bylines are cool, but bylines and money will hook you faster than crack.

8 Replies to “Dempster Hall Fire”

  1. So I was about to walk out on a bridge over Interstate 55 when I felt my cell phone vibrate. Heavy equipment was making lots of noise. “There’s a fire at Henderson and…can you get over there?” It was hard to hear with the noise. I said I’m down here at Benton, but I can be there in a half-hour, or call our guy who is on-call, or have a reporter take a point-and-shoot.

    A little later I get a call from Laura, who I knew was out-of-town on assignment. She just got back, I told her where I was, and she could get over to the fire.

    I understand we had a citizen journalist who evacuated Dempster Hall with a camera. Now she has a great spot-news photo for her portfolio. Some people start careers like that.

    Here’s the view from the bridge:

    1. Alica talked with me at the scene. She said she had called Laura, who said she was in Perryville. I thought Alicia did a great job for someone with a cellphone camera.

      You’d better watch it. They may figure they don’t need you if those “citizen journalists” multiply.

  2. My wife still loves to caught fire tires. When we are out in the car and I hear the Fire truck siren it is her siren call to spring into FIRE sprint mode…I get fast and loud instructions to follow THAT truck! …and off we go!
    Once a Marine, always a Marine they are never retied, probably the same way with the newspaper folk.

  3. Sorry Ken. I had just sent the pictures to Laura right before I talked to you at the scene. They asked if they could use them and I said sure why not. I am sad to say mine was taken with my cell phone so I don’t think they do justice compared to yours.

    1. No apology necessary. You did a great job with a cell phone. I can understand why The Missourian would prefer a free shot to one that would have to pay a token $5 for when it was as good as your picture.

      I can only remember a couple of times when I bought a freelance spot news shot out of the scores that were offered over the years. Usually I’d tell the “citizen journalist” (a phrase not yet introduced) to bring in his or her film and we’d process it. If it was color negative film, I’d tell them to take it to a one-hour photofinisher and I’d pick up the tab.

      Inevitably, it would be poorly exposed, shot from too far away or long after the action was over. I’d give them a handful of film (worth about $15 for black and white or $35 for color), a handshake and whatever swag I could convince Marketing to part with.

      Even my wife rolled over and gave the local TV station video of an explosion and fire that happened across the street from us. No wonder the Sun-Times was able to fire the whole photo staff.

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