Klein said he still keeps in touch with the owner of the dog and sees the moment as an opportunity for more public outreach, just like his own photographs. The photographs of fires can also help in training and education, he explained. After a building collapse in a fire, for example, departments can examine the images learn to spot the signs of an impending collapse, possibly helping prevent future injuries or deaths.
Klein’s work is distinctly humanistic. His images capture a raw fragility in the work that is often unseen in pop culture surrounding firefighters. Yes, here are the heroic men and women, climbing ladders and staring the face of death squarely in the eye. But there are also the darker places: the haunting look in a man’s eye; the scarred uniforms, charred and stained to the point of exhaustion; or the face of a school bus, torn beyond recognition.
But Klein doesn’t ask for pity or hero worship in his work. Rather, he bends the eye to the commonplace, highlighting the everyday nature of traumatic work. The firefighters Klein captures are doing a job, albeit a highly dangerous one, and within that simplicity lies the heart-wrenching truth.
He shoots with two Nikon digital cameras, a D90 and a D80, having learned from his role as a firefighter to always think of a backup.
“All the other [photography] training I’ve had is from experience,” he explained. “It’s from trial and error. Being a firefighter you never want to be empty handed. You always want to have a tool in your hands. If a lens gets broken or a battery goes bad, you rely on a backup set.”
He is currently working on a book about his experiences as a firefighter and has explored the idea of putting a photo book together. Mostly he hopes his work will show the public the true impact of firefighting.
“The mission for me is to share the story of what we do as firefighters,” Klein said. “It’s not always a glamorous job. You know, we don’t always get to save lives. But that’s what we want to do.”