By Sarah Calams, FireRescue1 Associate Editor
The best thing about documentaries is that they’re not your typical Hollywood glitz-and-glamour-type firefighting movies.
They’re real, raw and sometimes even emotionally-driven. And while some are entertaining, offering a glimpse into the life of an everyday firefighter, others are focused on providing historical background and showing life-changing events.
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Here’s our list of the top 10 firefighting documentaries you should not miss.
10. American Experience: Triangle Fire
“Triangle Fire” is for all the history buffs out there. The documentary chronicles the fire that tore through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, killing 148 women.
9. In the Red
“In the Red” is a documentary that follows three men through an intense training program to become EMTs and eventually firefighters in Oakland, Calif. It looks at the obstacles the candidates face — both at the academy and at home. The DVDs are available on their website. All proceeds go toward Bay Area Youth EMT Program and the fire academy featured in the film.
8. Into the Fire
“Into the Fire” originally premiered on The History Channel. The film follows real-life firefighters, from big city to small town volunteer departments, and offers a glimpse inside fire station camaraderie and the raw, emotional feelings of being unable to save a victim.
7. Brotherhood: Life in the FDNY
“Brotherhood” is an insider’s point-of-view of the fire service, focusing on three fire companies. Firefighters’ helmet cameras help bring viewers into the action and drama of firefighting. The film captures what brotherhood really means in the fire service perfectly.
6. Era of Megafires
While not out on DVD yet, this documentary is a must-see. The film is a 60-minute traveling presentation hosted by Dr. Paul Hessburg, who has conducted fire and landscape ecology research for more than 27 years. The presentation suggests that deforestation and city building are responsible for growing wildfires. You can view a trailer here.
5. Charleston 9: The Ultimate Sacrifice
This short documentary, from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, is available in full on YouTube. “Charleston 9” looks at the changes made and how the Charleston (S.C.) Fire Department recovered following the deaths of nine firefighters on June 18, 2007. In our opinion, it’s a must-watch.
4. America Burning: The Yarnell Hill Fire Tragedy and the Nation’s Wildfire Crisis
In this documentary from The Weather Channel, friends, family and the lone survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots speak out. The documentary also focuses on climate change, drought and brings awareness to the state of our nation’s wildfire readiness.
3. A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY
Before he was a famous actor, Steve Buscemi was a firefighter with the FDNY. “A Good Job” first premiered on HBO and follows Buscemi inside Manhattan’s Engine House 55, which he joined at 22 years old and worked in for four years.
2. 9/11 – The Filmmakers’ Commemorative Edition
This documentary was originally broadcasted on CBS in 2002. It was originally meant to follow around a 21-year-old firefighter trainee at a firehouse located seven blocks from the World Trade Center. However, the film later took a turn — capturing history in the making. Filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet captured the only image of the first jetliner striking Tower 1 and the only footage from within the tower as it collapsed.
You’ve probably already watched this one, but we couldn’t leave it off our list. From executive producer Denis Leary, “BURN” is a documentary about the Detroit Fire Department. The film takes you into the fires and into the lives of the real and compelling firefighters that drive the story.
Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below. And, if you’re in the mood for Hollywood’s take on firefighters’ lives, check out our list of the six best firefighting movies of all time.