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An Obama-Inspired Photo Bucket Brigade


I am accustomed to the image of desperate people handing their babies to firemen -- or, if not accustomed (for how often, really, do we witness something like that?), then at least familiar with the iconic image. But I wasn't prepared for what I saw firefighters doing during yesterday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Three uniformed firemen were atop the red truck of Engine Co. 18, which was parked on 17th Street between the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument. Dozens of people were thronged around it, their arms raised, cameras in hand.

You see, standing 10 feet off the ground, the firemen had a great view down the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial in one direction and over the tops of the massive crowd at the base of the Washington Monument in the other. People wanted the firemen to snap a photo for them. Up and down, up and down, went the cameras, the firefighters leaning over and carefully grabbing wrist straps before hauling them up.


I asked one fireman, from Engine Co. 27, how long they'd been at it. He looked at his watch. "Since 11:30," he said. It was 2:30. For three hours they'd been doing this odd bucket brigade act, constantly taking pictures. What can you see from up there? "Everything," he said. "It's a wall of people."

"Just push the button," a person would yell. "Both sides!" -- meaning both directions down the Mall. "You have to wind it," said someone who had handed over a disposable film camera. "Y'all gonna be professional photographers by the end of the day," said someone else.


The crowd was in semi-orderly lines, inching forward as the firefighters took their shots. We were all a bit giddy. It suddenly seemed important to us to have a firefighter take a photo, no matter what the photo would look like. It was the thing to do.

One man, tired of waiting, started to fall out of line. His wife gave him a dirty look and he got back in his place. She wasn't leaving without a firefighter photo. With our arms raised toward the firemen, we looked like baby birds demanding attention or starving villagers eager for a bag of rice flour.


Finally I reached the front of the line and handed my camera to Dino Johnson, of Engine Co. 27. "Have you dropped one?" I asked. "Not yet," he said, pretending to juggle my 7.1 megapixel Canon Digital Ixus 70. I've posted the photos he snapped for me, just a couple of the literally hundreds he and his colleagues took yesterday. If you went down, how was your experience?

Where in Washington?

Elena Ryan was the winner of last week's contest, correctly guessing that the building was the headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Here's today's image:


Think you know what it is? Send your entry to If you're the first correct entry you'll win a Post Pulitzer postcard.

By John Kelly  |  January 19, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
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Next: Random Thoughts From the Inauguration


I'm tempted to just quote Groucho and leave it at that..."that's the most ridiculous thing, I've ever heard." Yes, I understand, its the celebration of a lifetime...the arrival of "the One" the end of the reign of "the Mighty Boosh." But when you stop and think about it, your camera or cell phone has a picture of a crowd that somebody else took...big whoop. Firefighters are generally among the most decent and gregarious of people, as well as the bravest. What a great bnch they had in DC on crowd duty!

Posted by: mfromalexva1 | January 19, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Very cool!

Posted by: AGsilverspring | January 22, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

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