Hollywood! Adapt This: Wildland Firefighting – Hotshots, Smokejumpers and Rappellers

     October 20, 2013


Hollywood history has no shortage of firefighting movies, but most adaptations focus on urban firefighters battling blazes in highrises, tracking down arsonists or chronicling the bravery of emergency responders during national emergencies.  Occasionally we get a tale about the macho heroics of firefighters who battle infernos on oil rigs, or the grueling training and dangerous work of wildfire suppression teams.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, 2012 was one of the worst fire seasons in decades, with damage getting progressively worse over the last 50 years.  Sounds like the perfect time for an adaptation on wildfires and the brave men and women who battle them.  Hollywood!  Adapt this: Hotshots, Smokejumpers and Rappellers.  Hit the jump for more.

hotshotsWhat It’s About:

While seeing traditional firefighting personnel, vehicles and equipment is a fairly common occurrence in cities, the specialized firefighting teams for wildfire suppression are less well known.  By definition, these teams must travel to remote locations outside of heavily populated areas in order to battle blazes, protect resources, and manage the border between wildlands and urban areas.  They work with specially designed aircraft and equipment and undergo rigorous training to tackle the demands of the job, which include both direct and indirect methods of control.  Also, wildfire suppression often involves extended firefighting campaigns, which require more time and resources than a typical structure fire would in an urban setting.

Twenty-man crews of wildland firefighters include such specialized personnel as the hotshot crew, which are the elite members of the ground team who are the first to manage the fire and are assigned to the hottest/most dangerous areas; smokejumpers; highly skilled firefighters who parachute into remote areas in order to battle fires without much logistical support; rappellers, firefighters who rappel down to the ground from helicopters in order to begin suppressive action, clear a safe landing zone for additional firefighters and/or to deliver firefighting equipment; and helitack, specialized helicopters used for water drops, cargo delivery, crew shuttling, or reconnaissance

smokejumpersHow Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

While 2013 happened to be a milder year for wildfires, it also saw the death of 19 Arizona firefighters who lost their lives while battling the Yarnell Hill fire near Phoenix.  This could form the emotional core of an adaptation, rather than a generic love story like in the 1996 TV movie Smoke Jumpers, or some sort of crazy caper like 1998’s Firestorm.  There have been some efforts to paint a dramatic picture of these firefighters in the past, notably the 1952 picture, Red Skies of Montana, starring Richard Widmark.  That film follows the crew of wildland firefighters in Montana battling a deadly blaze which claims a few of their own.  The most recent effort was 2008’s TV movie, Trial by Fire, which perhaps makes the best case for why a serious Hollywood adaptation with some A-list talent is overdue.

wildfire-suppressionThe Final Word:

As of this writing, the only adaptation that deals with wildfire suppression teams is the Planes spin-off film, Planes: Fire and Rescue.  While this is great for kids and families, there’s plenty of drama, action and suspense to be found in this field for a more mainstream picture aimed at adult audiences.  There’s a lack of macho characters in movies these days, but a Hotshot/Smokejumper film would be chock full of them; think Top Gun meets Backdraft.  The treatment of the adaptation I have in mind would be something along the lines of Wolfgang Petersen’s 2000 film, The Perfect Storm, which centered on a group of strong-willed fisherman who find themselves racing against all odds when a rare and deadly storm forms off the coast.  Wildfire suppression teams sign up knowing full-well that they’ll face these dangers on a regular basis, and that they’re the last line of defense between the fires and the peoples’ lives and homes they threaten.  All are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to say others.  I’d say that’s more than worthy of a serious film treatment.

Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below and be sure to return next weekend for the next installment of “Hollywood! Adapt This!”

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