At 66, photographer Paul Lof can’t retire his passion for firefighting
By Shavonne Walker
SALISBURY — Paul Lof is a self-proclaimed firetruck chaser.
The Concord resident and retired firefighter regularly accompanies area fire departments, including those in Rowan County, at fire scenes. Once there, he takes video and hundreds of pictures all to capture the core of what they do.
Lof, 66, retired from as a firefighter in 2000 after 30 years in Virginia. Lof and his wife moved to North Carolina in 2016 to be closer to their children and grandchildren. He’d always been an engineer with the fire department, driving the truck, and soon began taking pictures once the hard work was complete.
When he retired, Lof couldn’t retire his passion for firefighters. Lof continued “to capture firefighters at work on film so their loved ones can see what they do,” he said.
Lof has always had an interest in the fire service even before he was old enough to join. He recalled being 10 and following a firetruck while in his sleep.
Once, he recalled, Lof dashed out in his bedclothes while still half asleep as a truck whizzed by his home one night. The story goes that his mother had to chase him down to put on pants, Lof said laughing.
In 1970, he joined the Springfield (Va.) Volunteer Fire Department. Two years later, his draft number was called and he was conscripted into the United States Navy. After his service, Lof spent a number of years with the Navy Honor Guard, helping to lay to rest those who died during the Vietnam War.
In 1979, Lof was hired with Fairfax County, Va., as a firefighter. He bought a used camera, a Canon 35 mm camera and took it to every call. It cost him $100 and came with three lenses.
In the early years, he also had a large camcorder that required VHS tapes to save the footage.
Lof continued to capture responders and, soon, began capturing moments for the local newspaper, the Freelance Star, in Fredericksburg, Va.
Retired fire chaser
When he first moved to North Carolina, he connected with a local fire department to see if the responders had interest in him taking pictures while they were battling fires. He now covers 10 areas, which include Rowan County.
In 2018, Lof says he took 13,589 pictures, of which 1,759 were shot in Rowan County. He also takes pictures in Albemarle, Cabarrus County, Charlotte, Concord, Harrisburg, Kannapolis, Mecklenburg County, Salisbury and Stanly County.
While out at most fires, Lof said he will take about 100 or more pictures. When firefighters are training or conducting a controlled burn on a structure, he has an opportunity to take as many as 500 to 1,000 pictures.
About a week ago, he accompanied local firefighters who were conducting weekend training. During that session, he took 900 pictures.
“I spend a lot of time editing,” he said.
He still uses a Canon video camera to shoot video that he posts to Facebook. He uses a Nikon camera to take his photos.
Lof says he refuses to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a camera because, he admits, he’s gotten so engrossed in the fire response that he’s previously left it on the ground or on the back of firetrucks.
Lof said many who’ve seen his pictures on his Facebook page — Paul Lof fire — say they appreciate that his pictures are taken from the perspective of someone who served.
Sometimes family members of firefighters will reach out to Lof to ask him to post pictures and so he’ll tag them in future photos.
“I had a woman say, ‘Mr. Lof, I live on the coast and today I got to see my son training with the Kannapolis Fire Department,'” he said.
Lof has been able to receive dispatch information from a few departments, but mostly he relies on the aid of four radio scanners, one of which disseminates only Rowan County calls.
He keeps two scanners on him and has others in his car and at his home.
“I’m 66 and still chasing firetrucks,” Lof said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.
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