Top 15 must-see firefighting documentaries
These documentaries are not your typical Hollywood adaptations; they’re real, raw and offer a glimpse into the life of everyday firefighters
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.
Here’s our list of 15 firefighting documentaries you should not miss.
“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.
14. 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, California. 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.
13. 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.
“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.
11. 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.
10. Woman on Fire
“Woman on Fire” is a 90-minute documentary about Brooke Guinan, New York City’s first openly transgender firefighter. Guinan now serves as the FDNY’s LGBTQ outreach coordinator. The film follows her transition and the obstacles and challenges she faced. You can watch the documentary on Amazon.
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. It’s a must-watch.
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 and drought, and brings awareness to the state of our nation’s wildfire readiness.
“The Fire Asylum” is a documentary about six firefighters going through an intense training program inside an abandoned West Virginia Penitentiary. The firefighters, who are from around the U.S., spent 26 hours straight inside the abandoned building. The training was designed to test the firefighters both mentally and physically. You can watch the documentary on Amazon or iTunes.
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.
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.
“Wildland,” a documentary that was filmed over one summer fire season, won two Emmy Awards for outstanding cinematography and outstanding editing. It follows the Grayback Forestry team in Oregon and showcases the realities of wildland firefighting. You can watch the documentary on Amazon.
New York City firefighter Stephen Siller died on Sept. 11, 2001. He heard a call come in about a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers as he was leaving work. He turned his truck around, ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and went toward what would eventually become Ground Zero. This documentary is about Siller’s story as well as his family’s, and how they chose to honor his legacy. It details the struggles and triumphs of the Siller family in the aftermath of the tragedy. You can watch the documentary on Amazon.
“Fire in Paradise” is a Netflix documentary that recalls the catastrophic 2018 Camp Fire, which devastated the town of Paradise, California. It quickly became the state’s deadliest wildfire, killing 85 people and destroying nearly 20,000 buildings. The documentary focuses on the survivors, giving viewers a glimpse into their experiences as the horrific fire raged.
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.
Editor’s note: 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.
This article, originally posted in February 2017, has been updated with new information.