May 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroit firefighters get $275K of equipment tied to starring role in 'Burn'

Actor Denis Leary donates gear to Detroit firefigh...
Actor Denis Leary donates gear to Detroit firefigh...: Actor Denis Leary and the filmmakers from award-winning documentary "BURN" donated $260,000 worth of firefighting equipment to the Detroit Fire Department.

Detroit — Nearly two years since their debut on the silver screen, Detroit firefighters finally saw their cut by way of $275,000 worth of equipment for a starring role in the award-winning film “Burn.”

Actor Denis Leary, the film’s executive producer, joined Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins and Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday at Engine No. 9 on Lafayette at Mt. Elliott to announce the actor’s nonprofit Leary Firefighter Foundation donated items that included thermal imaging cameras, carbon monoxide detectors and high-angle rescue gear.

The equipment was funded by a portion of the proceeds from the movie.

“This is an amazing day for us because this process started way back in 2008 when we heard a news story about a Detroit firefighter, Walter Harris, who was killed while fighting afire in an abandoned building,” said Tom Putnam, the movie’s producer and director.

“We’ve just spent the last six years ... traveling the world and bringing the story of the Detroit Fire Department to audiences everywhere.”

But the idea for the production wasn’t always well-received and failed to garner backers from major media outlets. It was eventually funded by charitable donations, according to Brenna Sanchez, also a producer and director of the movie.

After screening in 170 cities, the filmmakers raised $115,000 the foundation used to buy the cameras and detectors from firefighter equipment manufacturer MSA.

“This was our purpose and our goal ... ,” Sanchez said. “We knew we were going to give it, but MSA made our dollars go so much further by giving us great deals on this equipment.”

Other companies, CMC Rescue Equipment and Kask America also chipped in with $15,000 worth of high-angle rescue and helmets, respectively.

“It’s probably one of the greatest action movies you’ll ever see in your life,” Leary said. “The fire stuff in this movie is real action; it’s a real action movie with real action heroes. The other great thing is, it’s turned these firefighters into movie stars.”

Leary said that after the 2012 debut screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, actor Robert De Niro hugged one of the film’s stars, Detroit Fire Engine Operator Dave Parnell, as if “he was meeting Marlon Brando for the first time.”

Another of the film’s stars, Craig Dougherty, chief of operations, said he and other firefighters were hesitant when film crews first began shadowing firefighters.

“I always thought we had an interesting story, but I never imagined it would turn out quite like it did,” Dougherty said. “We did a roadshow with the movie. We did questions and answers. What we did find what resonated with people was a lot of fire departments are facing what we are: budget cuts, manpower cuts, equipment problems. So we kind of became a mirror for a lot of fire departments around the country.”

While the donated equipment will meet many needs, Duggan said the city will continue to support the fire department through its demolition of vacant structures that comprise the majority of fire runs.

“We are starting to knock down abandoned houses at a rate the city has never seen before,” Duggan said. “The men and women of this department are putting their lives on the line every day and we want to get to the point where you are doing that for homes with families, not empty buildings.”

Actor Denis Leary on Thursday presented new equipment to the Detroit fire department. / David Coates / The Detroit News