Burn (2012)

28 Oct

Review of the documentary Burn

Detroit. A city which once was the heart of the American economy, providing a lot of jobs in the car industry, has seemed to have lost its former glory. The media attention the city receives is usually negative, focussing on crime and people leaving the city resulting in empty buildings. Those empty buildings are a big problem Detroit faces as they are prone to be lit for various reasons. With over 30 fires a day (compared to only 11 in Los Angeles for example) it means that the fire department is one of the busiest in the United States. Burn follows the crew of Engine Company 50 closely and looks at the problems they are facing, which aren’t only fires.

Review of the documentary Burn

Directors Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez followed the firefighters for more than a year, which results in stunning footage. Firemen are wearing cameras as they are going into the buildings giving the viewer a unique look into their world and the dangers they face each day. But this documentary isn’t about extinguishing fires alone. The firefighters love their city and their work, but are underfunded using gear which sometimes should have been replaced. Shoes are fixed with tape and the amount of firetrucks that need repairs is big, which brings the risk of not being able to respond quickly to fires.

The firemen tell their stories, with the focus on three individuals. Brendan Milewski, who got injured in 2010 and has to deal with the results of that. Dave Parnell, the field engine operator, who has seen a lot of change through the years and is close to retirement, looking forward to spending time with his wife. Donald Austin is the newly appointed executive fire commissioner who has to prove himself, not only to the city, but also to the men he leads. He is fighting a tough battle as he does not have the budget to get the department to the level it should be, but he is expected to improve the department. Because he allowed the filmmakers access into his day-to-day work you understand why he has a difficult job.

Review of the documentary Burn

Burn is a thrilling watch, with men and women often risking their lives going through empty, burning buildings to make sure no one is in there. They are a tight-knit group who look out for each other and their neighbourhood and who work with what they have, even if that isn’t sufficient. With budgets everywhere decreasing Burn makes clear which potential risks other cities might be facing in the future. Detroit might not be the city it once was, but these people still believe in its potential and fight for it and that’s inspiring.


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