For the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), a picture is worth much more than a thousand words. Each year, the LAFD highlights talented photographers who share the work of the LAFD with the public through the Photo of the Year contest. The annual contest features powerful images that capture what LAFD firefighters and paramedics do, the challenges of the environments they face, and the courage it takes to continue to show up and protect life, property, and the environment again and again.
Photographers submitted their chosen photo to the LAFD for the 2023 Photo of the Year contest, and first, second, and third place winners were chosen based on the number of votes they received from the public.
Photographer Jack Quillin secured the most votes for capturing rich, orange-yellow flames delineating the frame of an LAFD member extinguishing a car fire. Ironically, Quillin was leaving another fire involving a car when he saw a large flume of smoke in the distance. He received the car fire notification and immediately headed to the scene.
The phosphorous popping in the air, Quillin shared, created star-like imagery above the lone firefighter. Quillin stated that the vertical angle made it “easier to control the landscape,” eliminating much of the background and emphasizing the LAFD member as a whole person, a story in himself. An unhoused individual had opened a fire hydrant, attempting to assist the LAFD, leaving a blurred reflection of the firefighter and flames at the bottom of the photo.
Henry Berkson, an LAFD Cadet, came in close behind Quillin in second place with a chilling snapshot of a firefighter cloaked in darkness and fog. A small single-engine aircraft had crashed into a mountain in the Beverly Crest neighborhood, and thick fog at the time required ground resources to search for the downed plane. Berkson quickly arrived on-scene to capture images of the firefighters working to secure the aircraft for investigation by federal agencies.
Berkson described the photo as “very moody and spooky,” with the combination of spotlights and cloud coverage creating an ominous, mysterious image. His photograph captured the vast scope of incidents that the LAFD faces – from fires to search and rescue missions.
The third-place winner, Jacob Terzoli, was chosen for his photo of a firefighter descending a ladder during an hours-long firefight against a textile-fueled blaze at a row of commercial occupancies in downtown Los Angeles.
The striking photo featured the firefighter against a backdrop of flames and smoke, holding the ladder railing with his left hand and gripping the chainsaw with his right. He is looking down, drawing one to consider what he was contemplating as he moved down the ladder and away from the blaze, rung by rung.
Mark Lassman was announced as the Forensic Focus Photo Award winner, selected by Harry Garvin, a forensic and documentation photographer for the LAFD who also supports the work of the LAFD’s Arson Unit.
Garvin shared his criteria for evaluation, stating that he is particularly drawn to cinematic photos with a timeless quality. He looked for photos that represented all LAFD members by showcasing experiences and perspectives that every firefighter could relate to.
Lassman’s photo featured a single firefighter silhouetted against a massive fire involving the tractor of a trailer-less big rig leaking diesel fuel onto the freeway. The photo accentuates the movement of the flames, amplifying the sense of being engaged in battle.
After the winners were announced, LAFD Fire Chief Kristin Crowley thanked every photographer who shared their images for the contest.
“You make it possible for us to connect with our online communities and help educate people around the world on the Los Angeles Fire Department,” she emphasized.