Life at the outer limits of urban austerity:
Burn, a new documentary about Detroit’s fire department, tells a story that could perhaps echo throughout many U.S. cities:
At a certain point in a city’s decline its financial resources are so diminished that life-or-death services like policing and firefighting have to be cut back at the expense of public safety.
A starting firefighter in Detroit, we learn, earns only $30,000 a year. There have been no raises for 10 years. Most members of the brigade have to supplement their incomes with second jobs.
Because there is almost no money for basic repairs, Company 50 struggles to make do with damaged equipment whose parts are sometimes held together by duct tape. A new fire engine would cost upward of $700,000.
The controversial proposal by Detroit’s Fire Department earlier this year about leaving vacant buildings to burn also feature in the film:
Not all agree with his decision to let certain fires burn once it is determined there are no people living in the structures. But Mr. Austin emerges as sympathetic figure. A scene of him sweeping his own office because there are no funds for janitorial services illustrates how desperate the situation has become. They are all in it together.
Two other articles about Detroit echo the same theme: How Detroit Became the World Capital of Staring at Abandoned Old Buildings (Mark Binelli), in the New York Times magazine this weekend, and A Battered City, Through Local Lenses (Mike Rubin), April 27, 2012, with looks at Detropia, Burn (above), and Deforce,