Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit | Chicago Reader

Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit

Detroit firefighters do their thing in this fascinating documentary, which reaches past the expected blaze footage and tough-guy confessionals to portray a city in crisis. There are 80,000 vacant structures in Detroit, and the men of Engine Company 50 respond to a whopping 30 calls a day, most of them arson fires. Along with their exploits, filmmakers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez follow Donald Austin, the newly appointed fire commissioner, as he compounds his abysmal political and interpersonal skills by announcing that the severely underfunded and overworked department can be stabilized only by prioritizing calls and allowing vacant structures to burn to the ground. Two other story lines involve a widowed firefighter piteously nearing retirement and a young buck left paraplegic after a building collapse; these stories are moving, but what really distinguishes the film is the sense of an entire city giving in to self-immolation.



  • Tom Putnam
  • Brenna Sanchez


  • Denis Leary
  • Morgan Neville
  • Jim Serpico
  • Tom Putnam
  • Brenna Sanchez

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