Ladder 49

This weekend I went out and spent my $8.50 to see the new movie, Ladder 49 ( ). For those who haven’t seen it, beware that this column may be a spoiler. I also want to start out by saying that I am not sure whether or not I liked the movie, and I will leave that judgment up to you. The movie had quite a bit of promise and I was looking forward to watching it. I walked out with mixed feelings and a bit of frustration.

Regular members and readers of know that a movie review is not the ‘normal’ column that I write but you will see the connection as the review goes on. Specifically I am interested in the marketing and public relations effects that the movie will have on the public.

From a firefighting and technical background I have to commend the movie. The technical advisors did a good job with the scenes and I was very impressed to even hear a PAR check. Their fires still do not smoke, but I understand why. The firefighters do have limits in this movie and even complain about fires always being on the top floor…

Even though the technical work is good, if you are looking for an action flick, you might want to look elsewhere. The best assessment of the movie that I heard was that it was a thinly veiled ‘chick flick’. In actuality, the ‘chick flick’ themes are what give the movie its strength. It is also why there are many tears in theater goers.

Ladder 49 takes a look at the effects that being a firefighter has on our family lives. We have all dealt with the stresses and near misses and Ladder 49 does a good job at showing the public what it is like. I was especially interested in the depiction of the effect that critical incident stress and the death of a firefighter have on home life. Obviously whoever wrote these scenes has experienced this first hand. I even read some feedback that said that family members shouldn’t see the movie because it is too real.

The problem with the movie is in two areas; the amount of ‘stupid acts’ that are considered heroic, and the depiction of the fire service as no more then a fraternity that does good deeds. I do not know if it is just me but I am tired of seeing stupidity rewarded. Heroism is a great buzz word and great of the movies, but if you watch the movie you will see that the character goes out of his way to take chances and is rewarded for it.

My past column on safety at caught me quite a bit of criticism on this topic. ( ) I am not saying that we shouldn’t be heroes but we should be recognized for saving lives without risking our own. If a lay person saves a life, they are a hero. If a firefighter saves a life they have to be doing something extraordinary to be recognized for it. This movie emphasizes this point and is where I have a problem but it is not the movie’s fault.

It is our own fault. I heard a great example of this tonight at our regular drill. While talking about extrication the instructor mentioned the case of a firefighter receiving an award for his act of heroism. The firefighter had used a wooden ax to cut a live power line that was down on a car trapping a patient. We all know that this is unsafe but he was heralded as a hero.

The stories go on that this guy was a firefighter’s firefighter… Chances are he was smoking a cigar and had a few under his belt at the time of the call. A real firefighter… Taking chances, drinking hard and playing hard… This is where Ladder 49 comes in.

When the firefighters aren’t fighting fires in Ladder 49 they are either pulling pranks or out drinking… If you cut out the fire scenes you would have an “Old School” or “Animal House” movie. While drinking and hazing may be a part of some fire departments it shouldn’t be the side we show the public.

I guess it is too much to ask to have a fire movie without drinking, partying, or a firefighter committing arson. I commend Ladder 49 on addressing the personal impact of being a firefighter and the realistic firefighting scenes. I leave it to you to make your judgment of the movie. I will most likely add it to my DVD collection but I still remain undecided as to whether or not I liked it…

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