Listen closely to the local police radio for breaking news photo opportunities like rescues.
When a young boy ventured from the banks of the Merrimack River and found himself stranded on rocks in the middle of the river, he was rescued by Lowell, Ma. firefighters, who rowed out to grab him, pulled him into the boat and lectured him as they rowed back to shore (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).
One hot summer Sunday afternoon, a kid was discovered stranded in the middle of the Merrimack River. The young boy had wandered along the rocks into the center of the river at a shallow spot, but when the water level began to rise, he was marooned in the middle. When I arrived on the scene, three members of the Lowell, Ma. Fire Department were rowing out to the rescue. I was there in time to photograph with a long lens and get a sequence of photos – the boy stranded on a rock as the boat arrived, the kid being lifted into the boat, and the fireman lecturing him sternly during the return trip to shore. It was a compelling series of three photos that definitively told the story. No doubt that kid learned his lesson and never did anything like that again.
1) Rescue photos usually require long lenses because you typically can’t get very close.
2) The best pictures are just as likely to be of the rescuers as the people being rescued (sometimes the spectators also provide great images).
3) Look for emotional facial expressions -- intensity during the actual rescue, or relief afterwards.