From the TUC

BURN: A warning from Detroit

30 Apr 2013, By

The European premiere of a new film about Detroit firefighters is being sponsored by the UK Fire Brigades Union. BURN captures a year in the lives of Detroit firefighters who are charged with the thankless task of saving a city that many have written off as dead.

Since 1950’s a vanishing industry has cut Detroit’s population in half from 1.8 million, leaving behind 80,000 abandoned structures, or kindling, as the firefighters call it. The result is a dying city with one of the highest arson rates in the world. BURN is about the men and women who risk their lives to battle those fires.  Their equipment isn’t up to the job, and their pay is disgracefully low – a starting salary of $30,000 and they haven’t seen a raise in 10 years.

The film follows the crew of Engine Company 50 — one of the busiest firehouses in America, located on Detroit’s blighted east side. Every time that bell rings, the doors of E50 roll up, its crew step into worn boots, climb into decrepit trucks and drive out into the crumbling streets of Detroit.

“Risking their lives in a city in decline, with low pay and substandard equipment – sounds familiar”

says FBU general secretary Matt Wrack.

“We’re sponsoring this premiere at a time when British firefighters are increasingly being expected to risk their lives with second rate equipment and ever lower pay and pensions. Just like their colleagues in Detroit, the men and women of the British fire service are underpaid, undervalued, and vital to the survival of our towns and cities.”

The film started as a response to the death, in November 2008, of 17-year veteran Detroit firefighter Walter Harris, battling an arson fire in an abandoned home.

The Mayor’s office in Detroit was hesitant to let cameras into the fire department; getting started took more than a year of negotiations.  Despite the filmmakers’ requests, no pre-interviewing was allowed, and the firefighters didn’t even know a film crew was coming. For 13 months the film crew was embedded with the firefighters, and in a gesture of solidarity, a significant portion of proceeds from the film will go the Leary Firefighters Foundation to buy much-needed gear for the Detroit fire crews.

BURN premieres in London on Wednesday 1st May, in an already sold out showing at the Curzon, Soho. But if you’re closer to Manchester, there are still a few tickets available for  Thursday 2 May 2013 at the Odeon Printworks, Withy Street. This event forms part of the Global Labour Film Festival and is organised by the London Labour Film Festival.

We’re hoping to see firefighters and film buffs alike, for what promises to be a memorable evening. And if  you would like to arrange your own smaller screening of Burn in your branch or local film club, or a large fundraising event, please contact us on [email protected] and we can help you arrange it.

GUEST POST: Anna Burton is the director of the London Labour Film Festival. She has spent the last 13 years working for the labour movement and runs a film production company in London.