Job Talk - April's Story


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Shared by: Jim, F., Retired Firefighter/Paramedic, Bellevue Fire Dept, WA

By Jim Flick

The 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography

That photo took on a life of its own. At first it was on the front page of the Seattle Times the day of the fire, Friday October 11, 1974 and those of us in it were all smiles as you might expect. We were all running around getting extra newspaper copies for relatives etc., after all, how often would you expect to have your picture on the front page of a major newspaper in your life? I thought the photographer was from the insurance company when he was snapping photos at the scene, none of us knew he was from the press, and we were nameless in the caption. A lot of ice cream was supplied by the four of us - a fire department tradition when your picture is in the paper or you are on the TV news.

So that was that - we made the front page, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and after a short time it was all but forgotten. We all felt at the time that we had taken a bow for all firefighters in a typically unsung job where we are seldom in the limelight and really do not seek that kind of attention. After all it's just a job, one that we happen to love doing.

May 5, 1975 came 6 months later, and there on the front page of the Seattle Times is the picture, with the headline: "Times Photographer Wins Pulitzer Prize". For a second time we all went scrambling for newspaper copies. Tom Gudmestad was traveling in Europe the day it was awarded and found out by spotting the photo on a news vendor's stand. I really felt honored to be associated with the world wide recognition the photo received for the job of firefighting. Once more we were all smiles, in the midst of buying more ice cream. Does life get any better than this at age 20?

Joe Guild, Tom Gudmestad, Kris Kitterman, and Jim Flick.
Gerald H. Gay of the Seattle Times for his photograph of four exhausted firemen, "Lull in the Battle."

Then came the phone call three weeks later from the US Air Force Graves and Registration, Randolph AFB in Texas. A woman in Okoboji, Iowa saw the Pulitzer in the Des Moines Register newspaper, looked at me in the picture and declared I was her son, an Air Force fighter pilot shot down in Vietnam. Her son was initially declared missing in action for several months, and had recently been updated to killed in action. She was accusing the Air Force of having brainwashed her son and he was now a firefighter in Seattle, Washington. They asked me all kinds of questions during the recorded phone call pertaining to my identity to prove I was Jim Flick and not this missing, killed in action, true American fighter pilot hero with a grieving, heartbroken mother and family. I hung up the phone and somehow couldn't smile anymore.

Six months after that the picture was used as the annual fire prevention poster during fire prevention week October 5th through 11th 1975. It showed the picture with the words: "Fire - It takes something out of all of us". I ended up with a giant-sized version of that poster that I managed to get from then mayor of Seattle, Wes Uhlman. I still have it, 51 years later, hanging in my garage.

After that, the years went by and there were one or two local small articles that would surface now and then referring to the photo. One small filler column several years later in The Seattle Times said "Quick, name four local firefighters that were the subject of a Pulitzer Prize... bet you can't". It went on to point out that the famous picture had never been printed with the firefighter's names. So, to remedy that the article listed our names, left to right, this time without the picture.

On January 5th 1995 four Seattle firefighters make the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of an arsonist during the Pang Warehouse fire. The Pulitzer photo was displayed at their public memorial service. What an honor.

In 1996, 22 years after it was first taken, the photo was made into a limited edition lithograph, and we all got together along with the photographer Jerry Gay and signed over 1,200 lithographs so 911 smudge free copies could be offered. It was the first time the four of us had gathered together since the picture was taken the day of the fire. Later that year while visiting an art gallery during a vacation to the Oregon coast, there it was beautifully framed and affixed with a $320.00 price tag.

9-11-2001 the World Trade Center terrorist attack. Our country grieves and there is a resurgence of awareness to firefighters in the wake of the 343 FDNY heroes who sacrificed their own lives in the hope of saving others. I suspect it was that resurgence that resulted in an article in the May 2002 issue of Smithsonian Magazine in their monthly “People and Places” section titled “Heroes Then and Now”. There were two photos, the Pulitzer and one taken in 1996 of the four of us when we got together to sign the lithographs, with the following article:
“You can’t tell what time of day it is, the fog and smoke are so thick. Bare branches heighten the gothic mood. The ground is mud. An overturned wheelbarrow hints at chaos. One man turns toward the mysterious glow while the others—wet, soot-streaked, slumped—look down or away, spent. The central figure, incongruously, holds a burning cigarette.”
“The four men had just battled an early morning house fire in a Seattle suburb when Jerry Gay, then a 27-year-old photographer with the Seattle Times, made this otherworldly portrait. Heroic imagery of firefighters is common these days, but this was October 1974, soon after the Vietnam War, a time that didn’t often exalt bravely doing one’s duty. Americans "were not seeming very honorable or very dedicated to the right principles," Gay recalls, "and here was this fireman picture that sort of spoke to a new American hero, a different kind of soldier." Titled Lull in the Battle, it won Gay a Pulitzer Prize.”
“Gay is now a freelance photojournalist in La Conner, Washington. His just-published book, Everyone Has a Life to Live, contains unabashedly sentimental photographs—kids, old folks, newlyweds, road signs, birds—that show, he says, how "we all share in each other’s lives."
“Of the firemen, Joseph Guild tore his knee responding to a fire in 1982 and left the service; now 55, he works as a greens keeper at a golf course. Chris Kitterman, 52, left fire fighting in 1989 after injuring his back on the job and now works for a sporting goods company. Jim Flick, 47 and a general contractor, served 19 years as a firefighter and paramedic. Tom Gudmestad, 49, is the paramedic operations chief for southern King County, Washington. The photograph hangs in his office. To Gudmestad, it has become a "touchstone of faith," he says. "I’ve been in the fire fighting business almost 30 years, and it always brings me back to what I did with that time and why."

That picture touched each one of our lives in so many different ways. Joe, Tom and Chris have their own stories to tell too, I'm sure. To date, there have been about 80 Pulitzer’s awarded for Breaking News Photography since the first picture in 1942. If you have ever seen all of the Pulitzer photos yourself, you will understand that to be included in the same company is a profoundly humbling honor."

Jim Flick
Bellevue Fire Department, Retired
Cle Elum, Washington


  • Scott Nicholson

    I see that Flick is retired from Bellevue, however, our information was that these Firemen were with the Seattle Fire Department, and that this fire was near Burien. Some help sorting this out would be great, as our Father was possibly at this fire. Thank you.
    Scott Nicholson

  • Art Bush

    Hired 9/30/1971 and was retired on disability 20 years later when my knees wouldn’t take the crawling across a living room floors or tying myself to a ladder with my legs to make sure I didn’t fall. At 46 y/o, my body was giving up on me and 2 new knees and a new shoulder were in my future.

    It was the best job I ever had and cried when I walked out my station for the last time, my days of riding the "tail board were over. I cried again when I watched the Towers come down. You just knew that so many families of “fire folks” had lost a loved one that day.

    While we sometimes get called “First Responders”, which covers a wide array of individuals who serve our communities, I a Fire Fighter and I want on my tombstone “I carried the hose.” because and that it was the best job I ever had.

    God Bless Every Fire Fighter, Police Officer and First Responders who we can count on in time of trouble. Isaiah 43:2

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