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article imageReview: Powerful documentary BURN opening May 3 in Toronto Special

By KJ Mullins     Apr 25, 2013 in World
Detroit - In the 1950s Detroit was thriving. Times have changed. The population is down to 750,000 from 1.8 million with a third of the people unemployed. For the Detroit Fire Department it's a powder keg that ignites every night of the year.
BURN is the story of Detroit told through the eyes of Detroit's firefighters. They have been tasked with saving a city that is burning down around their feet. Directors Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez weave audiences through a year in the life of these front-line heroes as they struggle with failing equipment and a growing arson problem. Actor Denis Leary, star of Rescue Me, and Jim Serpico were the executive producers.
BURN is opening on May 3 at Big Picture Cinema located at 1035 Gerrard St East. A large portion of the profits from the film go to the Leary Firefighters Foundation to purchase gear for the firefighters. Already $25,000 worth of gear has been donated to Detroit firefighters.
BURN tells how the economy has hit fire departments hard. As people move away from Detroit they live behind their former homes. Those homes are now vacant and ready to go up in flames.
"This is Katrina without the hurricane."-Detroit firefighter
In 2011 there were 28,228 fire calls in Detroit. Ninety-five percent of those were arson. The city's 933 firefighters race from one blaze to the next in trucks that need repairs and lacking key equipment. In contrast in 1951 there were 16,245 fire calls with 1,800 firefighters battling the flames.
"Until you put your life up as collateral for another you don't know what life saving is about."- Detroit firefighter
Today's firefighters risk their lives for a starting salary of $30,000. Most of the crew have second jobs to cover their bills.
"Cowboys in a big rodeo," is how one firefighter describes his brethren.
With a city that resembles a war zone more each day the battle has gotten more dangerous in the past five years with a record number of men injured or killed. BURN highlights this telling how Firefighter Brendan "Doogie" Milewski became paralyzed after a building's facade fell on top of him during a fire. As the year wears on Doogie fights to regain his independence.
"I wish my mind could forget what my eyes have seen", says Dave Purnell.
Purnell said that people are afraid to walk to the corner store in his neighbourhood. He doesn't understand how the changes came but they have. 2011 was Purnell's last year with the department after a life long career.
Newly employed Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald R. Austin is in charge of getting the department back in shape with a small budget and old equipment. One of his solutions is to get rid of the vacant houses without his men and women being hurt in the process. "Until they are gone we are just managing misery" Austin states with a new mandate-"Let them burn."
More about Burn, Firefighters, Detroit firefighters, Denis leary
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