* Image from DETROITFIREFILM.ORG, all rights reserved.
Last night I had the opportunity and privilege to see the movie that most of us in the fire service have been talking about for a while now; “BURN; One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.” I realize I am behind many of you out there in having seen the film but this was the first offering in my area and myself and about half my shift, as well as a couple guys from the other two shifts we allowed to join us, went to take it in. And all I can say is, “Wow.” I’m glad I did.
I’m glad I didn’t just sit back and say, yeah I “know” what’s going on in Detroit. I “know” what the Brothers are up against up there. I “know” they fight a lot of fire and I “know” they are doing it in less than ideal conditions. Because if I were to have done that it would have been like saying I “know” what war is like because I heard my Grandfather talk about it a couple times. I never would have seen it with my own eyes, listened to it with my own ears and looked at some of these men in their eyes as they told their stories. Now, it’s true, this was done on a movie screen but it was that powerful nonetheless. Especially if you’re a firefighter and can relate to at least some of what is going on in that once, and perhaps again, proud city. You can’t help but be moved by the men who go to work every day knowing they are going to fight multiple fires with less than ideal apparatus and equipment, and in some cases backing, because it’s their job and they love it. Not only that but because they have a duty to the people that are still left in Detroit. And therein lies a forgotten story in the conflagration of Detroit; there are still people who call the city their home and who have nothing else in their lives but what is in that house, as run-down or decrepit as it may seem to you and me. It’s not all about Devil’s Night and vacant structure fires. The DFD is still in the business of saving lives and protecting property when it can and has the ability to do so.
Many of us have seen the illustration below that explains the different meanings associated with the symbol of our profession. Gallantry; Perseverance; Loyalty; Dexterity; Explicitness; Observation; Tact and Sympathy. At this point and time in our collective history I cannot think of another organization as whole that exemplifies these credos better than Detroit Fire Department simply by showing up to work every day in the conditions they must and continuing to do the job they have sworn to do. A very powerful scene in the movie for me personally, and I don’t want to give too much away for those that have not seen the film yet, happened at the funeral of a young fire victim. This case was well publicized around the nation. There were equipment failures. The first-due Truck Company’s aerial didn’t work. She was trapped in the upper stories. The first arriving crews tried to get to her via interior stairs and ground ladder but couldn’t. She succumbed. And there, at her wake and funeral, were the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department. Standing with their community saying, “This was a tragedy. This shouldn’t have happened. We are here with you and for you.” My first thought, selfishly, was, “I don’t know if I could have done that. What if they would have turned on us? Hated us?” But in Detroit things are different. The community, I believe, for the most part understands it’s not the rank-and-file firefighters who are not performing their jobs. It is not the guys with gear held together by duct tape and the last strands of stitching. Due in large part to individual efforts of neighborhood fire companies and the local press the community has turned its eyes downtown to the elected officials and has begun to call them to task for the state not only of the fire department but of the city as a whole. Again, this rapport with the community is not due to a Public Education Unit which is funded with tens of thousands of dollars in the yearly budget, a dedicated staff and its own vehicle to drive around to block parties and senior citizen events all year. It’s not even due to a Fire Commissioner who sits and eats a hamburger with at a local church gathering while asking, “What do you-all really need from the Fire Department?” It’s from the men and women who actually respond to the calls also taking the time to educate the people about the situation.
And really educating people is what this film is all about. While this film has obviously become a hit with us, firefighters, it really is not meant for us. In the Q&A session after the screening last night Producer/Director Brenna Sanchez said (and I’m paraphrasing a little bit here because I didn’t have time to write the entire quote down); “This film was made so that the next time people go to vote for budget cuts for you’re department they’ll stop and remember Detroit, and think, “I don’t want my city to turn into that.” After all you guys are all 1 or 5 or 10 budget cuts away from being in the same situation just on a smaller scale.” And she’s right. East Fork Little River Fire Protection District (still doesn’t exist, I Google it every time I use it) might not fight 30 fires a day, but if they don’t have the equipment or manpower they need for the 1 fire in the year they do get, isn’t it just as bad? Especially if there is a life on the line? But this film can only educate the intended audience if it reaches them. And here is where the project is still running into trouble. “Whaddyamean?” I just heard you ask. The movie is being shown all around the country to rave reviews! That’s true, and the monetary goals for actually completing the movie-making portion of the production were met. But the project is still an independent release and has no studio or marketing back. Very few chain movie theaters have agreed to carry the film in their normal line-ups (although Brenna and Tom shared some exciting news for the Chicago area last night, but not knowing if I have the ok to release that info, too bad for you So the long and the short of it is that the project still needs help to ensure that it will be released commercially nationwide and reach its intended target audience, civilians. If you can find it in yourself to help out please go to BURN’s official website and make a donation, buy some swag, host a screening or do whatever you can. It’s not just about Detroit, it could wind up being about any of us.
Left to Right: Producer/Director Brenna Sanchez, FEO Dave Farnell (ret.), Myself, FF Ted “Tito” Copley
Front: FF Brendan “Doogie” Milewski (ret.)
Until next time,