Blog by Rich Miron
Marketing Manager with TargetSolutions
I wish my head could forget what my eyes have seen in 32 years of firefighting.
Dave Parnell, Detroit Fire Department
These chilling words open the gripping new documentary Burn, which puts audiences up close and personal with the unbelievable challenges the Detroit Fire Department faces on a daily basis.
Before this review goes any further, it should be noted Detroit Fire Department is a client of TargetSolutions and has been since 2006. It’s not pandering to say, it’s impossible to watch this film and not be completely inspired by the courage of these incredibly brave souls who serve this city during its darkest hours.
Here at TargetSolutions, we have a slogan used to motivate employees: We Serve Heroes Every Day. Those five words posted throughout our office walls will never be truer than after watching Burn, subtitled One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.
Soon after Parnell’s grizzled voice opens the film, which played last week at Horton Plaza in San Diego during Firehouse World, filmmakers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez put the city’s dire situation into context. Consider these facts reported in the movie:
>> Detroit’s total population has been slashed by more than 60 percent since the 1950s
>> Poverty has reached 33 percent
>> Unemployment is 29 percent
>> Approximately 80,000 homes are considered vacant
In 1954, Detroit staffed more than 1,800 firefighters. In 2010, that number had been slashed in half while facing 300 percent more fire calls. In fact, the department is tasked with 30 structure fires per day, and as one firefighter in the film estimates, about 95 percent are caused by arson.
To put those alarming numbers into perspective, Los Angeles, a city of 4 million, sees 11 structure fires per day. Never mind the fact its population is more than five times larger than Detroit’s.
It’s all preposterous, but true, making it a story audiences need to see, not really for the entertainment value, however, it’s incredibly well shot, featuring intense action scenes orchestrated with gritty rock blaring as a backdrop and skillful storytelling about several of the departments most relatable characters, but to gain a true appreciation for what this department is up against.
The film is focused on Engine Company 50, which is located on Detroit’s blighted east side where emergency responders risk their lives every single shift. One of the films characters, Brendan Doogie Milewski, demonstrates this unfortunate reality. Milewski, 30, was trampled as a building crashed down and is now paralyzed, confined to a wheel chair. He was one of the lucky ones, however, as several firefighters died in the collapse.
Burn documents Milewski’s story, showing some of his most personal moments, including when he meets with a doctor who offers his long-term prognosis. It’s just a miracle more guys aren’t killed or hurt on the job, he says at one point — a statement that couldn’t be more precise.
Milewski is not the only sympathetic character. Parnell is followed during his final days on the job after 33 years of loyal service. Some might wonder why Parnell and the others are willing to risk their lives in these conditions. But for Parnell, Detroit is home and always will be. He’ll fight until the end for it.
The film doesn’t really have an antagonist, but new fire commissioner Donald Austin is tasked with the unpopular mission of making the departments shrinking budget manageable. In an increasingly difficult environment, with malfunctioning equipment, a need for more manpower and compressed resources, it’s a tall order. Austin could have stopped production of this truth-telling documentary with a social conscience at any point. He didn’t and should be commended.
Burn is unique in that it mixes the kind of powerful imagery that would make a summer blockbuster proud with the larger, political issues the city of Detroit faces. The film was shot mostly during 2011 and was funded entirely by tax-deductible donations by corporations and individual supporters, most notably General Motors. These contributions allowed the film crew to tell this important, independently-made story that is only playing on select dates, in select theatres.
To them, thank you. Here at TargetSolutions, we serve heroes every day. Realizing just who some of these heroes are, and what they’re really facing, can only help us take our jobs a little more seriously.
About the Author
Rich Miron started working with TargetSolutions in April of 2010. He serves as the company’s marketing manager. Before joining the team, Rich worked as a journalist and editor for several publications, including The Camp Pendleton Scout and the North County Times. Rich has a degree in journalism from San Diego State University.