In 2003, I nearly died in a house fire in Queens, New York. I lived in New York City during September 11, 2001 and was amazed at the courage of members of the FDNY, but my personal experience with the department gave me a true appreciation for the work firefighters do. After all, what would we do if they weren’t around to save lives? Thanks to their swiftness, I got out of the house and didn’t choke to death. Watching a finely oiled machine in action is the best PR for a fire department. Watch them work, and their dedication is clear. Talk to them, and you realize they have hearts equaling the size of the passion they have for the job they do.
It was, of course, an honor when the producers of the Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award-winning Burn contacted me to get the word out on Uncle Paulie’s World about a screening of the film in Washington State. Executive producer Denis Leary had been doing the late night talk show circuit to promote the film a while back, and it was definitely something I wanted to see and write about. I don’t want to lessen the impact of the film by giving too many details away. What I will say is that whoever watches it will be changed for life. You will reexamine your priorities and want to remind yourself every day to say “thank you” to those around us who give of themselves for the greater good.
Burn is a documentary that follows the lives of members of the Detroit Fire Department throughout an entire year. Their experiences aren’t easy, and their department isn’t a normal one. Racial tensions and a lack of jobs changed the face of the city, lowering the city’s population from 1.8 million people to around half. That exodus has left behind 80,000 abandoned structures that are essentially fire traps, though the majority of the 30 daily structure fires are caused by arson. That’s nearly triple the number of structure fires in Los Angeles–a city of 4 million people. The fires are indicative of a larger social problem. The majority of departmental funds are spent to pay the firefighters their modest salaries. Repairs and the purchase of reliable equipment goes to the wayside.
Throughout it all, the firefighters love what they do and enjoy coming to work each day. For a firefighter, there is nothing like the adrenaline of entering a burning building, taking care of business, and saving lives. They put themselves in dangerous situations every day, selflessly, but still manage to maintain a sense of humor about it all.
It was no joke to many of them when a new executive fire commissioner came to Detroit and suggested that firefighters ignore the flames and let some of the structures completely burn to the ground. This seemed like the only way to level the battleground and clean up the city. Since many unknown transients lived in the structures, the idea seemed absurd, especially to firefighters who are in the business of saving lives.
Burn is an eye-opening film about real people–real lives–and they graciously let filmmakers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez into their community to give an in-depth glimpse into the triumphs and tragedies that take place in inner city Detroit. Putnam and Sanchez shot nearly 1,000 hours of footage and interviews to tell a shockingly true, and in its own way, beautiful, well-rounded story.
The film is full of selfless guys whose stories are compelling and varied. Many grew up in the communities where they live and work. And one thing connects them all–a love for the job and the city they see dwindling away, one fire at a time.
Tacoma, Washingtonis a town riddled with its own social and economic problems. It, too, has a brave fire fighting community. The Leary Firefighters Foundation will be hosting special May benefit screenings of Burn in Tacoma. The showings will take place at the Grand Cinema at 2 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. on May 21, as well as at 6:45 p.m. on May 22. Tickets are $15, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Leary Firefighters Foundation to purchase new equipment for firefighters. The Grand Cinema is located at 606 S. Fawcett Avenuein Tacoma. For more information and to watch a trailer of Burnvisit http://detroitfirefilm.org.