In documentary, ‘honest stories’ of firefighters

Drexel University students are currently producing a documentary about the culture of local firefighters.

Producer Harrison Kendall and director Brian Sullivan are making a feature-length documentary on firefighting culture. | Daniel Rainville TTN

They eat sleep and breathe fire—but the stories of those firefighters may go untold.

“The general public doesn’t know what goes on behind the scenes and how all that stuff happens,” said Brian Sullivan, film and video student at Drexel University.

Sullivan is the director for “Behind the Bay Doors,” a documentary meant to tell the stories of local firefighters. The film is an extension of a short documentary project he completed for a class earlier this year.

Sullivan, a firefighter in Roslyn, Pennsylvania, filmed other firefighters in his hometown earlier this year for a class video project.

“The response from the short film was so great,” Sullivan said. “When I was in LA, people were telling me ‘Why don’t you focus on this in long-form?’ For what we wanted to do, what we wanted people to see, the short film didn’t do it justice.”

Sullivan initiated a fundraising campaign for $25,000—enough for good equipment, secure spaces and the crew’s pay, he said—to complete the film.

“In one word, the fire service culture is brotherhood,” Sullivan said. “It’s one of those things that it is its own family. It’s like your second home. Everybody’s involved and it’s not just one area, it’s all over the nation.”

“It’s the good times, the bad times and many different components to a family that’s bigger than ourselves,” he added.

His crowdfunding initiative has raised $3,932 after firefighters and their friends and family donated, Sullivan said.

Even if the $25,000 goal isn’t reached, Sullivan and his crew will keep whatever money is raised to pay the remaining costs to complete the film, along with payments for the crew.

Harrison Kendall, a Drexel University student studying film and one of three producers for the documentary, originally joined Sullivan as sound director.

“I worked on a project with Brian before,” said Kendall, who does not have experience as a firefighter. “I did audio for a narrative he did. I was excited to come aboard and learn about the fire service.”

Sullivan carefully chose his crew because he doesn’t want to market the documentary as a student film—he wanted it to be taken seriously.

“I wanted 100 percent control of training a crew from the ground up,” Sullivan said. “I personally handpicked every single crew member from producers to director of photography to sound to editors, and more.”

Sullivan and Kendall are still in the process of reaching out to different fire departments, but have secured one so far. The main goal, Sullivan said, is “to bring the fire service into the public light.”

“We want to tell honest stories about real people and hopefully shed light on the risks associated with being in the fire service,” said Kevin Quinn, another producer working on the film, in an email.

Sean MacIntosh, the director of photography for the film, said ever since Sullivan came to him with his idea, he wanted to be involved in any way he could.

“I have always had a great respect for firefighters,” MacIntosh wrote in an email. “I felt that this project would enhance my understanding of what they actually did day in and day out.”

For Kendall, being part of the film means gaining experience working on a feature-length piece and telling “the stories of people that would otherwise go untold.”

“If you don’t know, you won’t know,” Kendall said. “They eat, live, and breathe fire. If you don’t sit down and talk with them, you won’t understand what they’re everyday life entails, you know, preparation techniques, organizations, everything.”

Ashley Caldwell can be reached at

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