F.D. Image


By Phil Hall | August 23, 2003

Paul Schwartz’s “F.D.” is a sincere, well-intended but somewhat dullish video documentary on the work of the Fire Department for the California City of Santa Rosa (population 142,000). Unlike the reality programming style of a TV show like “Cops” which keeps the camera in the heart of on-the-job activity, “F.D.” is more of a video yearbook where everyone comes on camera to say a few words, engage in an approximation of what their daily routines are like, and prepare for duty when the fire call comes. The camera joins the firefighters on a few EMT calls, but for the most part it stays distant whenever a genuine blaze occurs.
“F.D.” does not sugar coat firefighting, as a great deal of time is devoted to the firefighters’ discussing the physical and emotional duress of their work. One firefighter, injured on the job, is shown in a medical center taking an MRI that could determine if his career will be prematurely terminated. But for the most part, the Santa Rosa firefighters are shown in a fairly low-key environment in which they hang out with their families, cook together in the firehouse kitchen, work out in the firehouse gym, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. The wives of several firefighters come on camera to beam and cheer about their husbands’ work and the young sons of one firefighter also appear to promise how they are going to follow their dad into the firehouse when they’re of age. Everyone is very pleasant and articulate.
There is one fairly obvious problem here, however, which no one bothers to mention. Anyone who lives in a multicultural urban environment will immediately notice the Santa Rosa Fire Department is very similar in a one key aspect to the fire departments of nearly all major urban American fire departments: the demographics are skewered to the level where the personnel is almost entirely white male. In “F.D.” you can count the women and non-white firefighters on one hand and have fingers left over to dial 911. While obviously no one in need of a fire department’s services is going to question the race or gender of those coming in assistance, the film never questions the lopsided demographics of the department and it gives the impression that firefighting is one of the last all-white male bastions in the American workforce.

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