BURN, an independent film that documents the life of one of the busiest firehouses in the United States, Detroit’s Engine Company 50, features Battalion Chief Craig Dougherty, a Grosse Pointe City resident. The film will premiere in select area theaters for a week starting today, Dec. 7. (Click here to view the film's trailer.)
Dougherty, a 35-year veteran of the Detroit Fire Department, said the concept for the film came after the tragic death of firefighter, Walter Harris, in 2008 when the roof of an abandoned arson fire collapsed on him. Brenna Sanchez, the film’s producer/director and a Detroit native, worked with Tom Putnam, the film’s director/producer, for almost three years as they followed primarily Engine Company 50 —Dougherty’s firehouse.
In an interview with the Tribeca Film Festival, Sanchez said, “I grew up in Detroit, and was home for Christmas in 2008 when Tom sent me a story about a firefighter named Walt Harris who died battling a fire in an abandoned building. So we asked the seemingly simple question that anyone outside the city would: Why would someone risk their life to save an abandoned building? I went down to the local firehouse and started talking to the guys, and it just took a few minutes to realize that there was a big story here, one that was not being covered by any mainstream media.”
From executive producers Denis Leary and Jim Serpico, BURN delivers heart-pumping action as these Detroit firefighters battle the city’s blight of burned out buildings, all the while risking life and limb to keep the city from going up in flames. Leary, a five-time Emmy nominee, is the star of the critically acclaimed FX series Rescue Me about the lives of New York firefighters. He is also the founder and president of The Leary Firefighters Foundation, which provides funding and equipment to fire departments throughout the United States.
BURN features many Detroit firefighters but mainly chronicles the lives of three: Donald Austin, Detroit Executive Fire Commissioner; Firefighter Brendan “Doogie” Milewski and Dave Parnell, Field Engine Operator. Dougherty said his promotion to battalion chief is featured in the film too.
Austin, although raised in Detroit, had a 30-year career with the Los Angeles Fire Department and was preparing to retire when he was recruited to Detroit Fire Departments top position. As the city’s first “outside” commissioner, Austin faces unique challenges to reform a department weighed down with years of dysfunction and outdated practices.
Firefighter Brendan “Doogie” Milewski was a proud, young firefighter with 11 years of service in the Detroit Fire Department when he was injured after a wall collapsed on him. Newly married and 30-years-old, BURN documents the struggles that Milewski, and all firefighters, face after injury on the job.
Field Engine Operator Dave Parnell is the philosopher and wise soul of Engine 50. A member of Detroit’s Fire Department for 33 years, BURN follows Parnell as he’s preparing to retire and enjoy his golden years with his wife of 35 years. An unexpected loss leaves Parnell to face an unknown future.
The film has had a limited release, largely due to its independent nature and funding—something Putnam and Sanchez hope to change with a wide release planned in spring 2013 and a DVD release to follow. A significant portion of the proceeds will go to the Leary Firefighters Foundation to buy much-needed gear for Detroit firefighters.
Detroit firefighters have already received a $25,000 grant for new gear from The Fireman’s Fund Insurance by Momentous as a result of the film, Chief Dougherty said.
Dougherty traveled to New York for the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the 2012 Audience Award and standing ovations at every screening. The film festival’s founder, actor Robert De Niro, spent a little time with the cast of BURN, which was definitely a highlight Dougherty said.