Peter R. Barber had just gotten back to his Schenectady home around 10:30 p.m. after finishing a Christmas Eve 2013 shift at the Daily Gazette when the fire call came across his living room scanner.
The living room police scanner is just one of the many he monitors. Barber can hear calls on scanners he has in his car (two), his bedroom, his office, his living room and, yes, his bathroom. He also has a Schenectady Fire Department pager on him at all times.
“I don’t like to be late for stuff,” said the staff photographer, a former captain in the Niskayuna Fire Department.
On that Christmas Eve, Barber was one of the first to respond to an inferno on Moyston Street in Schenectady, befitting a former first responder.
“The call came in and I was out the door,” he said. “I got there behind the first engine company.”
The massive fire tore through three buildings. Barber’s coverage of the blaze from the outset of firefighting efforts earned him the Bruce Cromie Award Saturday from the New York State Associated Press Association.
The AP bestowed the award, named after the Albany-based photographer killed while on assignment, for Barber contributing the best of the state AP’s “Photo of the Month” award winners.
Gazette Editor Judith S. Patrick is hardly surprised by Barber dashing out the door off-shift on a Christmas Eve.
“That is classic Pete Barber,” she said. “Every season of the year we can rely on him to cover those dramatic stories. But he also does a fantastic job on the routine daily stories. He brings an enthusiasm, dedication and great skill.”
In 2009, Barber, now 53, also won the award named after Cromie, whom he knew professionally. “It meant a lot to win the award named after him,” Barber said. In addition to numerous other Associated Press awards, Barber was named regional photographer of the year by the National Press Photographers Association in 1992 and 2008-09.
Barber still has his scanners on, his Nikon at the ready, prepared to dash off at a moment’s notice.
“I don’t like to miss anything,” he said.