The story behind Tempe firefighter's viral flag photo

The viral photo of a water-soaked flag draped over the shoulder of a Tempe fire captain was taken by one of the firefighters on his team, Adrienne Berman.

“I’ve been on nine years, and … I have never seen so much fire,” Berman told The Arizona Republic. “The sky was dark black. You could hear explosions from the canisters exploding. There were embers and particles dropping out of the sky. There was water being sprayed from the ladder trucks creating a rainbow.”

Berman described the fire as the “craziest, most surreal and coolest experience” she’s ever had, which is why she snapped the photo when Nick Ells, her captain and a 10-year veteran from the Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Department, saved the flag from the flames.

The fire broke out at a recycling plant just south of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on March 22. An enormous plume of black smoke hovered over the Valley, visible for many miles.

About 150 firefighters from Tempe, Chandler, Guadalupe, Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale worked together to tame the blaze, which lasted about five hours, according to the Tempe Fire Department.

“At that very moment, with everything going on around us, Nick saw our country’s flag in jeopardy and went after it,” Berman said. “That he has the wherewithal to see that and do something about it — that is why I took it, and that is why I posted it.”

Berman said she isn’t surprised the photo went viral but didn’t post it to get credit.

“Our nation needs this right now,” she said. “The unity and conformity it’s doing to the nation is making me proud.”

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