Last night, I went to go see the movie Burn (BURN: One Year On The Front Lines Of The Battle To Save Detroit). The filmmakers are actually hosting 4 fund-raising screenings in Philadelphia (Last night and tonight) at the Prince Music Theater – Tickets and info here. Having seen the various trailers and sneak peeks (here, here, and here) for Burn, I was really looking forward to the film
The audience was probably 85-90% male, and many had fire service t-shirts on. First, I was trying to figure out why the theater was full of folks with IAFF and FD shirts from all over the USA. Then I remembered that the IAFF is holding their convention in Philly right now, so it made a little more sense.
The film covers, at least peripherally, the “big things” that have been going on in Detroit for the last few years. From Charlie LeDuff's investigative reporting (DaveStatter tells of LeDuff's antics reporting here), Detroit's “browning out” of companies, the death of Ivory Ivey in 2011, and serious firefighter injuries and deaths, including an 8/13/10 (Friday13th) building collapse with serious FF injuries, and the 11/15/2008 LODD of Senior Firefighter Walter Harris in a roof collapse.
As the film opens, we are introduced to the crew of Engine 50, one of Detroit's busiest fire companies, on the war-zone East Side of the city, and we follow them through a year of fighting fires and personal battles. A big point is the equipment issues faced by Detroit's firefighters, such as apparatus that is out-of-service, or run down to the point of falling apart. One scene shows a firefighter with duck tape on his turnout boots, because the rubber toe cap was falling off. Another shows the (current, for now) Fire Commissioner touring the apparatus shops, showing the truck that was hit by a train, an engine that was driven under a bridge, and other battle scars on apparatus.
Part of the story is shown through the eyes of FEO (Engineer) Dave Parnell a 30-odd-year veteran of DFD. He's presented as the senior man in the firehouse, and he's also a resident of the East Side. Parnell is presented alongside arson investigation staff and serves as a “tour guide” of the burned out hulks and vacant lots that cover the city. Detroit has 80,000 or so of those abandoned structures., lots of which are boarded up after fires or vandalism that has already weakened them. Those structures are time bombs for the Fire Department – only a matter of time until someone lights them off again, and in their already weakened state, they are practically death-traps for the firefighters. Many of the firefighters in the film punctuate the discussion of these risks with stories of their own injuries.
Speaking of injuries, the filmmakers spend a lot of time covering Firefighter Brendan Milewski, and his recovery after being paralyzed in the 8/13/10 building collapse. That, coupled with the other injuries that are covered really seemed to hit home with a lot of the crowd, and the potential for death and serious injury was discussed at some length in the Q&A session. During that Q&A, Brendan even mentioned that volunteers take the same risks, and EVERYONE needs to understand the potential for a life-altering injury or death.
In the end, the film does a fantastic job of covering the PEOPLE that are fighting to save Detroit, one fire call at a time. It's like a cinematic Report From Engine Company 82 – except with fewer resources and quite probably more fire. In the Q&A, the firefighters said that after the most recent cutbacks, Detroit is only running 40-50 companies a day, instead of the almost 70 that are on the books as in service. they are leaving the firehouse every evening and running non-stop until almost 5am – every shift. The movie does as good a job of capturing the intensity of their job, and the drama of their lives as well. As honest, and therefore bad, as it presents the City of Detroit, it really honors the firefighters.
So – Keep an eye on Burn's website, Facebook, and Twitter. Go to a fund-raising screening, if you can. If not, keep your eyes open. They say they are hoping to release the film this fall – but the filmmakers need to raise HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of dollars to cover costs before the film can be released. They have funded almost the entire movie like this (there's a big list of donors in the credits). So if you really want to see this film released – consider donating a few bucks to make it happen. This is a story that needs to be told.
Other background on the film: