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December 1, 2010

Peter Acton & The Lights

When I photographed FDNY Firefighter Peter Acton and the other guys at Engine 79 and Ladder 37 in the Bronx, the lights went out.  Tonight, Peter helped turn the lights back on in a really big way.  They were seen around the world.
While photographing the guys on August 14, 2003, the power went out at 4:10 pm.  Initially, we didn't think it was a big deal.  The guys took proper steps to turn on all the back up power sources.  The station was without television or lights but the rig's battery radios were operating and connected to headquarters.  Any 911 calls would be received.

Assuming the power would return shortly, we decided to keep shooting.

But a few minutes later, someone arrived to start his shift.  He gave us the news he'd heard on his car radio. . . the power was also out in Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, Newark, NYC and everywhere in between.  It was the Blackout of 2003.  

Instinctively, I stepped back to get out of the way.  I watched as some of the guys took a quiet corner, made the sign of the cross and prayed that this wasn't the next 9/11 we were all expecting.  All grabbed their cell phones to call home.  I saw proof that firefighters are willing to take risks that most of us will never have to consider.  I was in awe of their courage, their readiness, and their commitment to serve.  But what was coming?  Who did this?  Were terrorists responsible?  

Eventually, we learned it was a power grid problem with a domino effect that staggered city after city.  Peter and the other members of Engine 79 and Ladder 37 were kept busy the rest of the night.  Without buses, taxis or subways, I was stuck in the Bronx . . . but that's another story.

Peter was a first responder on 9/11 and was, according to media reports, deeply touched by the outpouring of respect and gratitude from New Yorkers who lined the West Side Highway holding signs that read "Thank You Firefighters" or donated cash and gifts to support the guys at Ground Zero and the firefighting families who lost their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. 

Stephanie Acton, left, her husband Peter Acton, ...
The press reported that when he had the chance, Peter found a way to say "Thank You" to New Yorkers and all of America.  Peter and his family donated their 75 year old Norway Spruce tree to Rockefeller Center and tonight they helped light the Christmas Tree.

We all watched across the country as the lights went on.  Peter returned a few - make that a lot - of smiles to the faces of New Yorkers.  Thank You Peter, Stephanie, Seamus and Fiona!  We will never forget your generosity.  Have a Merry Christmas.  You've made ours brighter.

Tree Photos © Yahoo