Fireproof: Vehicle Rescue

Inquisitive Raven is back with more insight into how Fireproof fails in its depiction of firefighters!


So, in my last post, I discussed some general matters regarding this movie and how actual fire services work. This time I’m going to tackle the vehicle rescue incident with the train.

Okay, on to the first incident. Our hostess sets the scene:

The next day, two cars of teens (two boys in one car, two girls in the other) flirtatiously drag race to the local pizza joint…with predictably disastrous results. The girls (of course it’s the girls; don’t be silly) get their car stuck on the train tracks, and both are too injured to move.

I should note here that what seems to have happened is that the two cars collided taking a turn. I’m also going to attempt to be charitable and assume that the reason the girls are the ones stuck on the tracks with the serious injuries is not so much an assumption of female incompetence as a need to make Caleb look more impressive reassuring the victims.

Back at the station, the call comes in. “Public Safety to Engine One, Battalion One. Respond to [incident location], 10-50 I Rescue, Time Out XXXX.” There are some things that seemed a bit off to me about that dispatch. Unless Albany uses numeric codes for types of incident, that’s the most unhelpful dispatch I’ve ever heard, and our dispatcher came up with doozies, like “sick person” which doesn’t really narrow things down beyond “not trauma.” Seriously, if that was Haverford Township, the dispatcher would have given a quick thumbnail description of what we were being dispatched to, e.g. “accident with possible injuries” or maybe “MVA with possible injuries.”

Another thing that struck me as odd is that they apparently refer to the ladder as “Battalion One.”  Um, really? Battalion chief is apparently an actual title in the Albany Fire Department, although oddly it shows up on the history page, not the organization page. Given that, I would assume that Battalion One would be the battalion chief’s command vehicle (probably an SUV if chief’s vehicles I’m familiar with are any indication). At any rate, calling a ladder “Battalion [number]” seems weird, and most places I’m familiar with would dispatch such a vehicle as “Ladder [number].”

Inside the fire house, Caleb comments “That’s close by” (No, really?) then starts handing out vehicle assignments. Two comments here: 1) the only people who really need to know where the incident location is are the apparatus drivers, one of whom is Caleb, and assuming that both of them are reasonably experienced, he shouldn’t need to point out how close it is. Since presumably everyone is local, I’d expect even the non-drivers to have a pretty good idea where the incident location is. If it’s not obvious to the drivers where the incident location is, well, at Manoa, the ambulances (and I assume the fire apparatus) carries maps, and there’s a map of the township (with hydrants marked) on the wall of an alcove at the back of the engine house. I’d be shocked if this place didn’t have a similar arrangement.    2) This is a professional outfit; I’d kinda expect everyone to have fixed vehicle assignments anyway, unless one of them is covering someone else for the shift which doesn’t appear to be the case, so there’s no need to tell anyone which vehicle to get in.

Remember in the last post, I mentioned weirdness with the turnout gear? Here it comes.  Either the boots and trousers are set up on the engine house floor, or someone pulls them off the apparatus and sets them up while the camera is focused on the protag, so when the camera shifts to the people gearing up, they’re already on the floor next to the apparatus. Turnout coats are visible on the apparatus itself. What the audience is seeing only makes sense with fixed vehicle assignments, and then they’d have to swap the turnout around at shift change because the crew members aren’t all the same height, build, and presumably shoe size. At the extremes, my sister, who is about five feet tall can’t wear turnout sized for a six foot tall dude and vice versa.

As they’re on their way to the scene, they spot the crowd. This would be a good time for the cops to already be on the scene, buuut I don’t see any sign of them. Our intrepid crew spots the car on the tracks. Our hero (ha!) calls it in, and asks them to contact the railroad dispatcher to stop all trains. Good move on his part, but given this movie is firmly ensconced in the “everybody has a cell phone” era, I find it difficult to believe that this is the first time 911 Dispatch has heard about the car on the tracks, and they should either have already gotten the railroad dispatcher on the line (or given later developments, be in the process of doing so). In fact, I’d have expected the dispatcher to notify the fire company of the car on the tracks, not the other way around.

They pull up to the scene, and Caleb assigns couple of people to handle triage, while he checks the driver of the car on the tracks, after shooing away the crowd, which is, y’know, the cops’  job. It’s probably important that she’s conscious so he gets to be all manly and reassuring for her.

This gets me wondering, do any of these guys have any kind of EMS training? Philadelphia requires every vehicle to have at least one EMT on its crew. All the full timers in my sister’s town are required to have at least EMT qualifications; most of them are paramedics. A lot of members of my old company have both EMS and firefighter training.  One thing all these outfits have in common is that the fire services also run ambulances. Which, based on the city government’s webpage, does not seem to be the case with Albany, so I suppose I shouldn’t count on them having anything more than first aid.

He also assigns someone to run a line of hose. This is actually reasonable although it leaves one guy to get the extrication tools. Having fire suppression standing by at an MVA is accepted practice.  I am a little bit concerned that all they have for fire suppression is water, but Albany doesn’t seem to have any foam pumpers which is what I’d really want on hand when the main fire hazard is gasoline. But hey, you use what you’ve got.

Round about the time they’re getting out the extrication tools, someone hears a train whistle. Caleb gets back on the radio to yell at 911 Dispatch about the fact that they can hear a train coming and repeats his earlier instruction to contact the railroad dispatcher at which point he finds out that 911 Dispatch can’t reach the railroad dispatcher. Um, dude, you’re wasting time here. If you can hear the frakking train, it’s too late for it to stop. Worry about getting the car off the tracks.

Somewhere in here, the cops do show up. I didn’t hear them arrive, but they do appear in some shots doing crowd control. The firefighters’ first attempt to get the car off the tracks involves simply shoving it. When that doesn’t work, they attempt to hook up a chain to haul the car off the track, presumably using the ladder as a tow. Good idea, too bad a) Idjit there wasted time with 911 Dispatch,  and b) it’s the second thing they try, or they might have managed to pull it off. So with no time for anything else, they attempt to lift the car off the tracks. And here again, we see where a larger crew would be useful. If they’d had two four person crews like I think they should instead of five guys, they might not have needed bystander assistance. If they had needed it, they would have needed less. But hey, this gives the filmmakers a chance to show a military dude being all heroic and stuff. Seriously, they make a point of getting a nicely framed shot of military dude stepping up to help. After he runs up to help, a guy in a suit, a random black dude, and a cop join in, but they don’t get such nicely framed shots.


Now, I’m going to point something out here. Remember in Part 4 where our hostess says this about Caleb taking off his mask and coat:

Now, I am about as far from being an expert on firefighting as it is possible to be, but is it really advisable for Caleb to take off his oxygen mask and his firefighting jacket, and put them on the unconscious kid?  Doesn’t Caleb need them more at this moment?  I mean, I keep thinking about being on an airplane—secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.  Because if Caleb is injured or collapses from smoke inhalation, they’re both screwed.  Isn’t it better, instead of wasting time fumbling with the gear, to get them both out as quickly as possible so the kid can get medical attention?

She’s right, and more on that in the next installment when I go over the fire call, but here’s the important point: to borrow a line from Jim MacDonald at Making Light, “Your first job is not to add to the number of people needing to be rescued.” They are not paying attention to that rule.

That is an official rule, btw, although it’s not usually phrased that succinctly. A large chunk of the first day of my EMT class was spent hammering it into our heads. There comes a point with the train bearing down on you where you drop the car and run. The rescuers overstayed that point big time. Fortunately, they succeeded in getting the car and themselves clear of the tracks because if they’d failed, they’d be dead; the occupants of the car would be dead; and the train operator would at the very least be injured since I think a car on the tracks would be enough to derail the train.  Running in such a circumstance may not be heroic, but it reduces the probable casualty count by the number of would be rescuers.


Okay, passengers saved and derailment averted. We get a couple of quick shots of the extrication, but the important thing is our hero (Ha!) talks to Christian dude after everything is over. Makes sense given what the movie is about, but I’m gonna go over the what’s shown of the extrication. Before I do though, a correction to my last post. I said there was a guy at each scene who wasn’t wearing turnout. That’s not quite accurate. He’s shed the coat, but at this scene at least, he’s wearing everything else. At the fire scene, the coatless guy has also shed his helmet.


Military Dude is assisting Christian Dude who was too close to the train for comfort as two EMS responders come up to the car and one climbs through an open window into the back seat.


Okay, remember in the last installment, I mentioned that Manoa’s ambulances carry helmets and heavy jackets as protective gear? This is why; MVA rescue scenes tend to have a lot of broken glass and shredded twisted metal, especially after the vehicle rescue techs get done with the cutting tools. The firefighters at this scene break out the cutting tools and take the roof off the car. Two EMS responders are visible in the back holding spinal stabilization on the patients necks (the reason they’re in the back seat), while a third has just finished covering the patients with a blanket, presumably to protect them from debris. The EMS responders are in short sleeved uniforms, and none of them have donned additional protective gear. This isn’t a problem for the guy next to the car. He can back away from the danger zone. The two guys in the car can’t go anywhere, and they should have at least put on coats. The Manoa ambulance jumpsuits are a) long sleeved, b) worn over our street clothes, and c) heavier than the uniform shirt seen here, and I still have probably put on a coat before getting into the back seat. They tend to make the shortest people on the crew get in the back to take spinal stabilization. One look at the state of the roof should show why.

There are some other things that seem to have been neglected. Before climbing around (and into) the vehicle and cutting it apart, they should have braced it so it can’t shift position while they work on it. Suspensions are springy, y’know?  And the state of the tires is iffy. I don’t expect them to show the process; it would take too long, but they could’ve had a chunk of wood or a jack sticking out from under the car to show that it was done, and I saw no sign of anything like that.

collarThere’s a long spine board, and what could be a bag of cervical collars or a bag of basic EMS gear (commonly referred to as “first-in” or “jump” bag). I don’t see anything to stabilize the spine below the neck before removing them from the car, which should be laid out with the long board. Also, honestly, I don’t think that bag is long enough to contain flattened collars.  When the firefighters take the roof off the car, the patients don’t seem to have been collared. I will note for the record that there is a push to reduce the frequency with which EMS providers immobilize the spine, but given the driver’s report of neck pain, and the passenger’s lack of responsiveness, this seems like one of those occasions where spinal immobilization is indicated.

I can’t think of anything else to say about this, but if people have questions, I’ll try to answer them.

Next up the fire call, and, boy howdy, is it a train wreck. Our hostess did a pretty good job of eviscerating it, but it’s worse than she thought.


Posted on September 19, 2014, in Fireproof, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. …but it’s worse than she thought.

    Isn’t it always? Ah Kirk, you never disappoint. And by “never”, I mean “always”.

  2. Yes, the idea that they could still try several things and complain to dispatch between hearing the train and getting the car away seems supremely silly. Also, aren’t they lucky that the train whistled at the right time?

    • inquisitiveraven

      It’s not entirely luck. Trains are supposed to whistle when approaching a crossing grade in order to give anyone who might be on it time to get clear. That means it has to sound far enough back from the crossing grade that people have time to react. I’m just not sure how far that’s supposed to be.

      I ride Amtrak roughly twice/year, and I remember one train ride where the locomotive had a broken whistle. Since it couldn’t sound a warning, it had to slow down to 15 miles/hour (24 km/hour) when approaching crossing grades so it might have a chance of stopping if something went wrong. Needless to say, it was quite late by the time it got to my station. Of course, they didn’t tell us this until after the train had already slowed down several times.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Trains are supposed to whistle when approaching a crossing grade in order to give anyone who might be on it time to get clear.

        Not necessarily. I ride Metrolink from Fullerton to Irvine most weekdays. A lot of the crossings in Anaheim & Orange (where expensive new condos crowd right up to the right-of-way) are marked NO TRAIN HORN.

        And the train horn code for “approaching grade crossing” is Long-Long-Short-Long.

        • inquisitiveraven

          That sounds hazardous. From the expensive description, can I assume that these condos are owned by people with more money than sense who would rather take a chance on someone being hit by a train than be disturbed by the warning whistle? Or do the trains have to crawl through these areas in order to have a hope in hell of stopping in reasonable time should someone be on the tracks?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy

            More like a train horn right by their condo (and train horns are LOUD) would damage their always-appreciating Property Values.

            As for “trains having to crawl through”, not through Anaheim. The only speed restriction along that stretch of the line is between Anaheim Stadium and Orange Station itself — 20mph/30kph. Between Fullerton and the old SP industrial branch crossing north of the stadium, they make up for lost time.

            There’s another speed restriction through Santa Ana itself, though not as severe as between Anaheim Stadium and Orange. Outside of there, the trains run 70+mph (110+kph) to make schedule.

      • Ah, okay, I thought the whistle was from an enigne. Dutch trains don’t use whistles at crossings. Our crossings are usually guarded by automated barriers and/or automated warning lights that are activated if a train is approaching. On small rural roads, there are still unguarded crossings. I think the only security measure there is “Use your eyes and good luck”.

        • Many crossing grades in the US have automated gates too, but the one in the movie only has a sign, and I don’t think you get a good enough look at it to see if it comes with flashing lights. I don’t have the impression that it does though. Also, since we are talking about the US here, we have our share of idiots who’d try to get past the barriers.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          In the US, even with automated barriers & warning lights, trains still sound long-long-short-long at grade crossings unless specifically forbidden (such as “NO TRAIN HORN” sections.

          And as Inquisitive Raven has said, there’s ALWAYS someone trying to sneak past the barriers and beat the train. All the announcements, all the posters, all the programs to prevent this, and all our Speshul Little Snowflakes KNOW none of this applies to them.

  3. inquisitiveraven

    Yeah, thread necromancy, but there’s somebody at Patheos/Atheist who’s doing their own dissection of Fireproof, and I thought you might want to see what they had to say and maybe add your own commentary.

    Also, I realized while reading that review that I missed a possibility for rescuing the girls. Saving lives trumps protecting the spine, so the firefighters could’ve popped the doors and pulled them out before the train got there. That still leaves the problem of probable derailment with attendant injuries to the operator, but it avoids anyone else getting killed.

    While I’m at it, do you still want part three of the fire/rescue analysis?

  4. Elizabeth Sanders

    Look you dick for being a low budget movie it’s great. Not every movie is going to get every little detail right. Lay off it..

  5. inquisitiveraven

    Whoa, gendered slur much? Also, not really accurate.

    Anyway, AFAIK, no movie ever gets all the details of any profession (or often much of anything else) right; I could do a similar dissection of Backdraft which is a much better movie. Among other things, the main characters actually get called on some of their bonehead stunts. That said, there’s not getting everything right and there’s not even trying. This movie goes beyond not even trying to putting stroking the star’s ego ahead of anything remotely resembling realism.

    The business with the train is there entirely to ratchet up the tension in what would otherwise be a routine extrication. Part of that is managed by the star’s time wasting on the radio. Note that it didn’t work for everyone.

    The entire point of this series of posts is for me to pick apart the fire/rescue aspects of the movie, though to be honest, they could have cut everything in this scene that happened after the train went by except Kirk’s character talking to Christian dude and not lost any of the plot.

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