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Toby Barlow

Toby Barlow

Posted: March 8, 2011 10:01 AM

Watch "Spoiled" Firefighters at Work (VIDEO)


I've heard a lot about public employees in the past few weeks, lots of rhetoric about how their salaries, pensions and health care are too excessive. While I agree that in times of sacrifice we all need to compromise, I also wonder if the people attacking the public sector really understand what our public employees do every day.

Then I saw BURN, a documentary currently being shot in Detroit. The movie, by Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez, follows the city's firefighters in their day-to-day struggle. To get this footage, the crew attached HD cameras to the helmets, providing a vivid portrait of the fight against an "ordinary" house fire. I didn't need to see this in 3-D or in IMAX to be blown away.

Right now, nearly a third of the land within Detroit is vacant. Wherever you see a vacant lot, there was once a house, wherever there was a house, there was a fire. Over the past four decades, it's been like the bombing of Desden in very slow motion. That's not all our firefighters have been up against, they have also faced continuing budget cuts and now a Fox-addled public who are chomping at the bit to gut their pensions and health care. Just to the south of Detroit, Ohio's Governor Kasich is trying to pass Senate Bill 5, which would go further to negatively impact police and firefighters' rights than anything any state is currently considering, including Wisconsin.

Detroit's motto, "Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus" means "It will Rise Again from the Ashes" a reference to the disastrous fire of 1805 that nearly destroyed the entire city. Detroit did rise again, and in 1940 it was the fourth largest city in the country, the Paris of the Midwest, The Arsenal of Democracy, Motown. Today, of course, we all know of the city's decline. Perhaps it will rise again, it has every reason to -- we have water where the West has none, and in a heating planet we're pleasantly situated just north of the Canadian border, plus the people here are incredibly nice -- but for now, we are the poster child of post-industrial decline. What we still do have, all that we possess, these firefighters protect.

I encourage you to watch this footage and share it with friends. For me, it was more than a little mind blowing. For the firefighters featured in this footage, it was literally just another day at the office. So watch it and tell me that they're lazy, tell me that they're spoiled.

(For more about BURN, or to support the film, visit detroitfirefilm.org.)