This spectacular photo featuring all of Aurora's front-line apparatus and nearly 200 firefighters will be for sale from the Aurora Regional Fire Museum towards the end of July. You may use the link below to view a "Quicktime Virtual Reality" preview of the photograph.
AURORA — For an hour and a half on Thursday morning, the Northgate Shopping Center was one of the safest places in the city.
The entire Aurora Fire Department gathered in the parking lot of Northgate, off Lake Street, to pose for a panoramic photograph. You read that right — the entire Aurora Fire Department, roughly 200 people and 20 fire trucks and other emergency vehicles, all in one spot.
It was the culminating event of the AFD's 150th birthday celebration, and one of the few times that the entire department has convened in one place at one time. It was the department's first all-staff photo since 1958.
The photo shoot was directed by Brad LaPayne, owner of LaPayne Photography in Champaign. LaPayne has been shooting panoramic photos since 1986, and he retired from the Champaign Fire Department recently to devote himself full time to his second career.
LaPayne has worked with fire departments before, although his work usually concentrates on skylines and sports-related photos. He does team photographs for the NBA, and has shot Super Bowls, NBA Finals and World Series games.
"There are only four or five people in the country who specialize in this type of photo," said David Lewis, curator of the Aurora Regional Fire Museum and one of the organizers of Thursday's shoot. "It was great to get a firefighter that could work with us."
It only took LaPayne about two minutes to actually shoot the AFD photo, using a $10,000 camera that slowly exposes a strip of film while it rotates. Most of his time was spent directing traffic, aligning the fire trucks where he wanted them, with the help of Assistant Chief John Lehman.
Once the vehicles were in place, firefighters scrambled onto them, standing and kneeling on the roofs, and clambering out onto the huge ladders, which were raised over the scene.
With the entire AFD gathered in the Northgate parking lot, the department had to enlist the help of other communities to provide emergency service for the city. Firefighters from Sugar Grove, North Aurora, Naperville, Montgomery and Oswego all volunteered to fill in.
The shoot began at 8 a.m., and ended 90 minutes later, and in that time, the neighboring departments responded to four Aurora ambulance calls, according to Lehman.
Lewis said the original plan was to arrange the photo on Broadway, in front of the Fire Museum and the Central Fire Station. However, the logistics of blocking off a major street during morning traffic just proved impossible, he said.
Plan B involves making a composite of Thursday's photo with one of the museum and fire station, so that the finished product looks like it was shot on Broadway. LaPayne said the process of melding the two photos is a painstaking one, and prints would not be ready until mid-July.
Prints of the panoramic photo will be roughly four feet long, and each of the city's nine fire stations will get one to hang up. They will be available to the public. Call the Aurora Regional Fire Museum at (630) 892-1572 for more information.