Firefighters hold fundraisers for Arnold’s emergency scene photographer who lost a leg

Steven Matto takes some of the most intense fire scene photos ever.

It’s just that most people don’t get to see them.

Matto, 54, is the official photographer for many fire companies in the Alle-Kiski Valley, documenting more than 700 emergencies. His photos are used by fire companies to document their responses as learning tools. They rarely appear in a newspaper or on television.

Recently, however, illness and the loss of a leg have sidelined him, unable to document the courage and hard work of volunteers who rush into burning buildings instead of walking away.

Now these firefighters are stepping up to help their photographer recover.

A stubborn infection triggered by a plantar wart required the amputation of his left leg above the knee.

Local firefighters are mobilizing to raise funds for Matto’s medical and living expenses:

• There will be a Spaghetti Dinner on Saturday at the Washington Township Volunteer Fire Department Event Hall.

• A band blast featuring local musicians to benefit Matto is scheduled for Sunday, May 29 at New Kensington Memorial Park.

• A GoFundMe web page raised over $8,000 towards a goal of $20,000.

Matto’s photos document the courage and hard work of individual firefighters and the fire scenes themselves.

“Steve is a well-known and respected incident photographer not only in the Valley, but in western Pennsylvania,” said Brennan Sites, deputy chief of Lower Burrell Volunteer Fire Company No. 3.

“We regularly use his videos and photos to self-criticize our actions to reinforce our best practices, as well as to identify missteps where we need to do more training,” he said.

lose a leg

Matto’s medical ordeal began late last year with a plantar wart on his left foot.

An infection raged through his blood and bones. He underwent five surgeries and spent seven weeks in hospital.

He was also diagnosed with covid-19 double pneumonia after the first surgery, according to his family.

Kensington’s new fire chief, Ed Saliba Jr., became aware of Matto’s health issues around Christmas. Matto’s wife, Connie, alerted Saliba that she needed help climbing her husband’s steps to their Arnold home.

Saliba gathered firefighters to build a ramp at Matto.

It was then that he learned that Matto had lost his footing.

“I didn’t know the infection would spread and there would be more surgeries,” he said.

When Matto lost most of his leg, Saliba suspected Matto would need more than a ramp.

“We knew Steve was the breadwinner of the family and they needed the means to survive,” he said. “Listening to Connie talk about health care, we had no idea how long the situation was going to last. Who knows?”

The Mattos have four children.

Saliba teamed up with other firefighters, such as Chris O’Leath, former chief and spokesman for Arnold Volunteer Engine Co. No. 2.

As the men made fundraising plans, Matto ventured out in his wheelchair to photograph a deadly fire in New Kensington on March 6 and the funeral of Arnold Fire Company No. 2 Chief Keith Dziobak.

Matto is fitted with a prosthetic leg with a computerized knee.

He hopes to start jumping over fire hoses to access fire scenes in June or July.

“It kills me not being able to move around a fire scene, and that’s a huge motivation,” Matto said. “I have a 3 year old daughter that I want to chase around the yard. I want to get back to work. My employer is holding my job back which is fantastic.

Brotherhood

Matto, a bakery manager for Giant Eagle in Verona, picked up a camera in 2012 and began photographing weddings, local bands, high school sports and more.

Then he stopped at a few fire scenes, including one at Arnold.

After O’Leath, then chief of Arnold No. 2, saw his work, he asked Matto to take pictures for his fire company. Saliba followed suit. Then the two Lower Burrell fire companies came aboard, and there have been others since.

Matto provides its services free of charge.

His interest in fire scene photography turned into public service.

He covers fires for local departments from Pittsburgh to Greensburg to Kittanning.

“Someone sees a fire truck speeding through traffic, and my photos show the community and the families of the firefighters what they are doing,” he said.

“The photos show why people should put a few dollars in the trunk.”

Matto arrives at fire scenes most times before firefighters because he gets emergency alerts and doesn’t have to stop at a station to prepare, O’Leath said.

Matto documents the dynamics of fire. It usually knows if someone is in a burning building and relays that information to firefighters when they arrive.

“It functions as a first set of eyes on the scene,” O’Leath said. “It helped us considerably in knowing the origins of the fire and other aspects of the emergency.”

Then, Matto’s photos become educational tools after a fire when firefighters review their operations.

“His love for photography and firefighters kind of changed the way some fire departments work,” Saliba said. “You see in his photos and videos some of the tactics used by firefighters, which you can use to advance your next advance or device placement.”

Many people assume firefighters come out and put out a fire, but there’s a lot more to it than that, Matto said. Firefighters save people, buildings and the public from the dangers posed by fires.

“You can’t believe what’s happening on stage. It’s incredible. Everyone has their job and everyone participates,” he said.

Matto’s Facebook page, The Scene Photography, has 9,500 followers, including from Canada, Poland, India and Russia.

Mary Ann Thomas is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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