To Serve and Protect

Trainees from the NFD work in the blind to practice search and rescue.

You cannot appreciate the difficulty of a firefighter’s job until you have witnessed them crawling through a house with full gear, blinded, reaching out with their remaining senses trying to locate a possible victim.

This was the scene I had the privilege to witness last week when the NFD held a practical search and rescue training session at a donated home.

To simulate the conditions of working in the dark in a smoke-filled structure, the trainees were blindfolded. I don’t know about you, but I can barely walk through my bedroom in the dark, so I can’t imagine what it was like to work blindfolded in a strange home looking for a rescue dummy. Add to that a full facemask and a respirator and someone like me who is just slightly claustrophobic, would be curled up in the fetal position totally freaking out!

I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women, who put their lives on the line to rescue, protect or serve others. Whether they serve with fire, police, emergency medical or the armed services, these people put others before even their own health and safety out of an extreme sense of honor – and compassion. After watching the firefighters from NPD work in extreme weather conditions to further their training, I’m even more in awe of them.

While I watched these men put on their full (and hot) fire gear, which included hoods, facemasks and respirators, I commented to their captain that this must be really tough considering the temperature (the heat index was still at 109 at 7 p.m.). He looked at me with a “this is what we do” expression and reminded me that usually there was also a blazing fire. Now, I was sweating just standing there, but as I watched these men, who were already soaked with sweat,  put on their gear, I didn’t hear any complaints. I also didn’t see any looks of contempt on their faces; instead, what I saw was anticipation. Anticipation to get in there and learn how to do the job well.

While I photographed them crawling through the broken down house that had seen other days of intense training, I watched them systematically search the home to locate the suspected victim. Although the guys knew that the house was not really on fire and that the “victim” was a 189-pound rescue dummy, they attacked the job with unwavering dedication. Once located, the victim had to be extricated the fastest way possible; sometimes that meant through the same route the firefighters had entered and sometimes it meant out through the nearest window or wall.

It wasn’t glamorous like is often depicted on film and there were no “beauties” waiting to express their undying gratitude. No, these guys were met by their co-workers and trainers offering them a bottle of water or Gatorade and sometimes, when it got bad enough – by the EMTs to give them fluids in other forms. Still, as soon as the first team was finished, the next team was gearing up to take their turn – all to make sure that when an actual search and rescue scenario presented itself, they would be ready.

For me, the only scary part of my experience was when I realized that I had backed into a room followed by a blind firefighter who was searching the area by sweeping the floor with a tool that looked like a cross between a pick axe, crowbar and a hatchet. I was genially concerned for the bones in my ankles. But I had nothing to fear, as the captain safely guided me out of harms way.

The experience will stay with me for quite some time as will my admiration for the men who work and volunteer for the NFD and for that matter, anyone who signs up to “serve and protect.”

Look but don't touch! Fire is both beautiful and dangerous. From my Fire Series.

A Photo Gallery

Here is a selection of some of the many photos I have. Just click on the center of the slide show at the bottom to view the images at your own pace, and please feel free to leave a comment. If anyone is interested in purchasing a particular image, leave your e-mail in the comment reply and I will be in touch with you. I respectfully ask that you do not copy or capture any of these images. All have been watermarked – Darla

A lone duck preens her feathers under a bridge.

In 2009, Oklahomans awoke on Christmas morn to one of the worst Blizzards in history.

From my Fire Series: I love the look and intensity of fire. Within the inferno, lies unimaginable beauty.

Shadowfax slowly stalks her unsuspecting prey.

Just enough snow fell one winter to cover the bright red berries on this evergreen.

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Star Spangled Banner

I love taking photos of fireworks — it is the challenge that appeals to me the most. I especially love to push the envelope and see what I can do with an ordinary fireworks image to make it more spectacular. Some of these are just straight shots, others have been manipulated through the lens and not in Photoshop or other digital darkrooms. Never assume just because you don’t have a tripod that you  cannot take amazing night fireworks shots. The only limit is my imagination.

Burst of Beauty: This is just a straight shot using a tripod and a long exposure; from my Fireworks Series

Starlight Starbright: This was just a straight shot using a monopod and a long exposure. I caught it just as the tips of the burst were at its brightest.

PlasmaWorks: From my Fireworks Series -- hand held, lens manipulation, not done in Photoshop.

FlowerBurst: This yellow/white burst that resembles a flower was a through the lens manipulation, hand held; also from my Fireworks Series

Light Writing: This is another through the lens manipulation. However it has been converted to black and white; who knew fireworks could look good with no color?

Electrifying: This was another through the lens manipulation; I may have tweaked the color a bit with a hue and saturation - Shocking isn't it?

Loss of Literacy

A young author reads her book which she wrote and illustrated to a group of children at a local library.

With the deluge of everything technology, it seems as if man has lost his ability to transfer the written word from simple words on a page to recesses of his mind where his imagination can bring them to life.

I used to hear people say that they could explore anywhere in the world or become any character through imagery derived from books – I don’t hear that so much anymore.

I recently came upon a old report on literacy reading in America by Reading at Risk that found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young.

Books are becoming a medium of the past – a fact that is tragic. I fear as man loses his ability to use his imagination through the written word, he will soon loose all forms of creativity.

Today, everything is about the technology. Even at church, digital Bibles are replacing the written Word as my youngest daughter demonstrated when she “opened” her iphone instead of The Book during the morning’s sermon.

Although digital books are still technically literacy, other forms of technology remove the necessity of the user to read, or use his imagination.

Case in point: Texting. O.K., you do have to read it, but OMG, what are you really learning, except that your BFF is BDDBI5M or your BF will have to CWYL CUZ he has GGN, (

Yeah, and we used to fear the Ebonics was going to ruin the language skills in America – texting lingo has the propensity to remove any and all literacy skills from our nation’s populace.

Along with reduced reading skills like comprehension, comes a reduction in practical life-skills like spelling. And you can’t forget composing a decent essay or letter; many people have lost the ability to compose even a decent sentence.

Technology is a wonderful tool; I use it every day, and would be completely lost without my writing companion – But when that technology threatens to overshadow and possibly eliminate the written word, I fear that this lost skill will be the demise of our planet.

When humans stop learning, stop imagining, then they stop creating. Without creation and invention, our world cannot see progression.

If we allow it, the machines can take over even on that front – but I fear a society not unlike the one depicted in Pixar’s movie Wall-E might be our future.

Do yourself and your children a favor pick up an honest to goodness book. You can borrow almost any title from your local library, or for a spectacular treat, why not visit Full Circle Bookstore at 50 Penn Place in Oklahoma for a truly unique experience and a one of a kind book.

Take Down Those Signs

Garage sellers beware of dirt-road-rage

In this time of economic stress and with the high cost of gas, nothing irks me more than to follow garage sale signs for many miles only to discover that they don’t lead to anywhere.
What I find at the end of my ugly colored rainbow of signs is that the afore mentioned garage sale is not longer open, and the perpetrator of the signs-left-behind only thought to remove the one sign in front of his or her home. More than once, I have been left with only disappointment after I have been on one of these wild goose chases to locate a garage or yard sale that might just possibly possess that item for which I’ve been searching for a number of years.
Now, I should mention, I’m not one of these people that has a bumper sticker plastered across the back end of my purple PT Cruiser that reads, “I Break For Garage Sales.” But when I do have a few minutes to indulge in the sport of bargain hunting, I certainly don’t want to waste precious time and gas on empty dreams. If a person has the energy and audacity to plaster signs on every vertical surface prior to their sale, then is it too much to ask that they take a few moments to go back and collect all the signs that haven’t otherwise been blown to Kansas by Oklahoma’s prevailing winds?
This simple act of kindness will prevent a lot of dirt-road-rage. It is not a pretty sight to see a grown woman ranting at the overgrowth of weeds on some lonely back road. All I ask for is fair representation of garage sale signs that lead to promised treasures.

Welcome to my world

With graceful sweeps of large wings, this water fowl glides over a small pond.

Thanks for joining me. Please feel free to peruse through my images or read my writings, which are often rantings of things that I find amusing or often, annoying. I only ask that you respect my work; please do not copy or use in any unauthorized way. Thank you. Enjoy, Darla

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