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Fire Fighting Fakery: The Problem With "Backdraft"

Jul 31, 2008
Fire fighting, especially in recent times, has gotten a reputation as one of the most romantic and noble professions anyone could commit himself to. And it's by no means a new phenomenon: the romance of battling the flames was central to the success of the 1991 Ron Howard film, Backdraft. But how well does the fakery of fire fighters' lives stand up to the reality?

The answer: not well at all.

It's silly, of course, to expect any Hollywood movie to remain strictly accurate to its source material. Plenty of novels have been ruined by the writing-by-committee processes of professional scriptwriting, and books could be and have been written about the lack of fidelity to cultures, people, and even basic events in many major film productions. Viewed from the vantage point of this kind of sad film legacy, Backdraft's approach to the fire fighter's life could be considered better than most. But that isn't saying a lot.

None of the fire fighters involved wears proper safety equipment, from oxygen equipment to face masks. All right--we can accept that. They're famous actors, and the producers can't sell the movie if you can't see their faces. But why do these famous actors have to charge into action with their coats undone? No one recognizes William Baldwin for his chest. Why do these famous actors senselessly destroy furniture, doors, and at one point even an innocent car? And why, given the classic adage--"Where there's smoke, there's fire"--did the writers forget that the reverse is also true, and when there's fire, there's invariably thick, dramatic, poisonous smoke?

Even the name of the movie is a misnomer: "flashpoint" is the technical term for what the movie calls "backdraft." How much research did the writers really do?

Add to all of this a senseless series of comments about the elemental, animal nature of fire that does no one any good when it comes to really facing a disastrous blaze, and you've got a serious problem of a movie on your hands.

If you're looking for a really good, slightly more accurate portrayal of fire fighting in the movies, go further back and enjoy Steve McQueen and Paul Newman in The Towering Inferno. It's a film based closely on a novel, and one which took a close and sometimes painful look at the technical challenges of fire fighters' work in a real, modern situation: battling flames in a modern high-rise. An outlandish situation, possibly, and it's true that Steve McQueen had his fire safety equipment altered to be more dramatic and attractive. But there's no nonsense about the elemental, animal qualities of fire--and there's plenty of good, hard, factual information about the technical requirements of fire safety in a modern building to be gleaned while you're being entertained.
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For a guide to current approved fire fighting equipment a click to www.FireProtectionOnline.co.uk is all you need
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