‘BURN’ Brings Detroit’s battle to the big screen
Dec. 6, 2012 PLYMOUTH VOICE.
Documentary about the Detroit Fire Department screens this weekend in Livonia and Sterling Heights –
AMC 20 in Livonia and Sterling Heights- through Dec. 13
Nov. 9, 2012
BY: Tom Putnam & Brenna Sanchez / BURN Producer/Directors
Firefighters kick ass.
We know this because we just spent four years filming one of the busiest fire departments in the nation for our documentary, BURN.
BURN is an action-packed movie about Detroit firefighters.
Detroit has more fires than any other city in America. Los Angeles averages 11 structure fires per day. Detroit, with 80 percent fewer people, averages 30 fires. That’s a crisis of epic proportions. If it was happening anywhere else, it would be national news. But not if it’s in Detroit.
Even more unfathomable than the fireload they face is how the Detroit Fire Department tackles it. Their rigs are falling apart, in some cases held together with duct tape. Same goes for their boots, and tools, and morale. They haven’t seen a raise in 10 years, and just had department-wide demotions and pay cuts of 10-30 percent. This for a workforce whose starting salary is $30,000 a year, if they were hiring. But firefighters don’t strike. And they don’t share their problems with people outside the fire service. So their needs often go unnoticed. Or worse, they become an easy target for politicians looking for something to cut.
In Detroit these cuts have brought the city to a tipping point. With no new firefighter hires, the average age in the DFD is now 43 years old. Imagine joining an NFL team at 43. The day we premiered our film at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, the department ran out of fuel for their rigs because the city hadn’t paid its bill. Think about that for a minute: A 139-square-mile city whose fire trucks can’t get where they need to go because there’s no fuel.
When we started this film back in 2008, we thought we were making a movie about a single city. The issues Detroit and its firefighters faced seemed extreme. But things have changed. Now that the film is finished, we’ve been screening it around the country, meeting firefighters in rural and urban departments. And they’re all telling us stories of budget and pension cuts, doing more with less, and the fear that some day they too won’t have what they need when the bell rings.
Now many municipalities are one or five or ten budget cuts away from where Detroit is. And it shouldn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or anything in between. When your house is on fire or your grandmother is having a heart attack you want someone to show up. You want that person to have the training and equipment they need to do their job.
As citizens, we think our first responders are taken care of, but the sad and scary truth is that it’s increasingly not the case.
A lot of firefighters come to our screenings. They love to see themselves up on screen and see what they do. Because let’s face it, they have an awesome job.
To those firefighters: We’re glad you like the movie. But you need regular folks to see BURN — teachers, students, business owners and churchgoers, legislators, politicians and voters.
Civilians need to know what they can do to help you.
We made what we think is a kick-ass movie. We hope BURN makes it easier for you to show people what you do and what you need.
State House representative John Walsh of Livonia’s 19 District recently introduced a bill that makes for tougher penalties for arson-related crimes.
According to Walsh State website, House Bill 5692 will provide law enforcement and Prosecutors with the ability to establish different degrees of arson crimes.
“Michigan was hit hard in the foreclosure process and there are a great number of abandoned homes and other buildings throughout the state, which are targets of arsonists. Even thought the buildings might be empty, the lives of firefighters and others responding to arson fire are put at risk as the attempt to battle the blaze.” Walsh said.
The bill has moved forward for Senate approval.