Synopsis: The city of Detroit, Michigan has been in severe decline in recent decades. Among the resulting problems is the dramatic rise of fires in a decaying urbanscape of abandoned buildings that seems to have no future. This film profiles the lives and trials of the personnel of the Detroit Fire Department, who are on the front line of this taxing battle. Facing constant emergencies in the face of shrinking budgets, the firefighters of Detroit are to determined to protect the city as best they can, whatever the cost.
Genre: Documentary
Production: Area 23a
  1 win & 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
86 min

I wish my head could

forget what my eyes have seen

in 32 years of firefighting.

Why do you do this?

I love my job.

It does... it's something

with adrenaline

that gets you pumped up.

And here we go!

Got to regroup, keep it

moving, that's the best I can do.

That right there times

30 a night, times 30 years,

is how you burn a city

down... one at a time.

It was probably the most

beautiful city back in the day,

you know, when there was

factories everywhere,

there was people spending

money around here.

The car industry was booming.

It was much easier

to get a job and it was more

of a family atmosphere then.

You didn't have to lock your doors.

I grew up in Detroit.

I've seen the City change from

a nice, decent neighborhood

to certain areas that just

look like bombs have hit them.

Most of the neighborhoods

are blighted, vacant lots.

Next to vacant dwellings.

We've got probably

one, two, three, four...

six, seven, eight vacants

on my block.

It kind of hurts me to see

the City getting destroyed like this,

I feel like I'm in the

burning of Rome sometime.

Population loss, I've

watched it go from a city

of one-point-eight million

to seven-hundred thousand,

leaves a lot of vacant homes.

The bottom line is everybody

that can seems to be fleeing.

I mean, this has been

Katrina without the hurricane.

Our city is crumbling around us.

Imagine two-thirds of the

people in your city disappeared,

but they left their houses,

their garbage, their furniture.

As long as

there's people leaving,

as long as there's vacant

houses, there's going to be fires,

it's called fire load,

there's more things to burn.

The neighborhood of our

district is, statistically,

one of the worst places on

earth for crime, for poverty.

So they were shooting, too?

And the other

one was right there.

High murder rate,

high infant mortality rate.

Police telling me this is

not just a murder, but an execution.

Crimes that you never

would, in a million years,

thought would happen

in your neighborhood.

In the City of

Detroit last year alone,

we had over 30,000 actual fire calls.

I mean, we're in trouble,

we need help.

This don't have

nothing to do with the City,

this is must my own

personal edge.

My name is David

Parnell, I'm a FEO,

Field Engine Operator,

for Engine Company 50.

Dave Parnell and I

were hired about the same time,

1977, great guy, solid guy.

You feel safe when

he's behind the wheel.

He'll get you water within 60

seconds of being on the fire drop.

That's what I do.

The soul, if you

will, of the firehouse.

He's pretty well loved and

respected by everybody here.

Dave is old.

He has to retire.

He's like Papa Bear.

He's in there, we catch him

nodding off in there a little bit.

He's watching an old

Western, black and white.

It's okay, he's earned it.

Sometimes, I

just need a little Parnell.

What is a man's worth

that doesn't make the

world a better place?

What's a gang besides a

family looking for a home?

Think about it.

My favorite one is when he says,

"I wish my mind could forget

what my eyes have seen..."

Could forget

what my eyes have seen.

We call it bullshit.


But it is comforting.

It is totally comforting.

Well, never get that from Dan.

Come on Dave,

I need some bullshit.

You're going to get

some bullshit from Parnell.

You know, I've

been here so long, you know,

you feel like a fixture,

thirty-three years.

Yeah, thirty-three

years of firefighting,

I have eight months left, and

then I'll retire, I'll be 60.

Are you ready to go?


no, not at all.

This is my neighborhood,

this is where I live,

this is where I fight my fires.

You used to could walk

in this neighborhood.

Well, now, you're pretty much

afraid to walk to the corner.

This is where some

of the firefighters lived

and grew up, right here.

And now look at it, that

was a fire job right there,

you can tell by the soot that

was in the front of the dwelling.

We've been to that

apartment building over there,

at least a half-a-dozen

times that I know of.

We actually saved a young

man out of this one, 18011,

actually saved a young man

out of that one.

When you look around the City,

you look at the burnt-out homes.

That's when you get this

attitude, "This is no good."

And I don't understand it, I'm

not going to understand it.

If you live in the community in which

you work, how do you not do something

for the people that are around you?

You have an opportunity

to make change.

Report of a growing fire...

Ninety-five percent

of what I do is arson.

Very rarely do we have

a legitimate fire.

We can't get out!

Somebody went in

through the back door,

went upstairs, and

they lit the place.

You go up stairs you can smell

some kind of accelerant or something.

I can't picture

another city that's like this

where so many of the fires are arson.

It's beyond me why people would

want to burn their own city down.

There's arson for profit.

There's arson for revenge.

And then there's just

arson for kicks.

It used to infuriate me that

this was going on night after night,

and nobody, nobody seemed to care.

But I mean, we're doing this

for the people that are left,

and for the houses are occupied.

You got to be tough.

The exhaustion

can be depressing.

To blow off steam,

you probably have ten methods

for every individual, you know?

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Mike Gan

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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