Hot Shots: The story of Roy Pena - Fire Photographer

Pelican Professional Dec 06, 2017

When we see a fire and the brave firefighters who battle the blaze on TV, we rarely stop to consider the photographer who courageously captured these moments in the thick of the action. When Roy Pena photographed his first fire, he had no idea that those adrenaline-filled moments would ignite a passion for photographing these scenes years later officially for the Bakersfield Fire Department.

When he was a young boy living in Central California, Roy looked up to his grandfather, a volunteer firefighter, who would regale his grandson with stories of his fire fighting days and take him to the station every now and then. At six years old, Roy saw his first fire, tearing at the structure of Toys-R-Us, a traumatic scene for a toy-loving child, but he was in awe. In his later childhood, Roy made forays into photography, inspired again by his grandfather and photos he took in the Korean War, over 300 images that are still saved in a box in Roy’s home. He taught himself to edit and lightly pursued his talent through high school and college.

In 2012, Roy saw a column of smoke on the horizon and raced with his gear to capture his first fire, focusing on the action and the work of the firefighters to tame the flames, and that taste was all he needed. He began photographing fires county-wide and sending images to the local fire department chiefs, ultimately catching the attention of the Bakersfield Fire Department and bringing Roy onto their team as the first official photographer.

A typical week for Roy includes assessing the calendar that includes scheduled trainings and firefighter events - the Kern river in Bakersfield is very dangerous and causes fatalities every year, so that’s a strong focus in their training schedule. Roy shoots the trainings in order to break down successes and allow the department to critique tactics. Filming the firefighting process allows for chiefs and departments to retroactively assess the work of their teams, citing improper action and allowing for course-correction.

Because he’s a volunteer, Roy goes in whenever he can to shoot, and uses a radio scanner (or app called Pulsepoint) that notifies him of fires in real time. Occasionally, Roy will beat the team to the scene of a fire and start shooting to get the scene caught on film. His shots have done more than just “document the scene”, recently they actually led an arson investigator to the origin of the fire, while another time, Roy’sshots were able to assist in capturing the individuals who started the blaze before the police arrived.

The photos that Roy takes often go to the Bakersfield Fire Department, to the chiefs and crew members depicted, and sometimes even the families of those in the photos. It’s a special experience for those families to get to see their loved ones in action, being heroes. They rarely get the opportunity to see them on the job, so Roy provides a window into that world through his photography. His photos have been picked up by California Professional Firefighters and Bakersfield Magazine, and across the web through his ever-growing fanbase on Instagram.

In his setup, Roy carries two cameras, Canon 60D other 7D, 30 mm lowlight aperture lens, a Canon 50mm lens, another 24-105mm, a 70-200mm for during the day, and memory cards and batteries. The field is very dangerous for camera and accompanying lenses, and at any moment, he could drop it, get it soaked from a fire hose, or lose it in the bustle of the race to the scene.

“I would hate for an expensive camera to get destroyed - my Pelican Case does a great job protecting against the elements. I carry Pelican everywhere I go now - I always want to be ready to shoot - You never know when the next incident is going to happen.” says Roy.

Through his action-packed photography, Roy is not only able to capture fire scenes but also aid in training, investigating, and preventing urban fires in California - we are honored to have him as a Pelican Beta Tester, and are looking forward to more to come from this talented photographer.

Roy’s Equipment of Choice: Pelican 1535 Air with Trekpak

Below you can see a few selects of his work.