I Was a Fireman

I Was a Fireman (aka -Fires Were Started)(1943) written and directed by Humphrey Jennings I Was a Fireman has similar objectives to Jennings’s earlier documentary Listen to Britain (1942). The same themes of interdependence and unity of the British war effort are rehashed, and the same “leveling” atmosphere is captured. However, this film is different in two important aspects. Since Jennings is documenting the events surrounding just one London fire brigade, not an entire nation, he is able to focus on the personal interactions that underpin the war effort.

Jennings shows that the seemingly unimportant interactions between co-workers are – in fact – just as important as putting out fires. Platitudes, jokes, and activities bond the small community of sub-station 14-Y together. I Was a Fireman also blurs the line between documentary and dramatic feature. The film was shot after the blitz, but it carefully recreates the details of one fateful night’s events and revisits the sacrifices made. Further, Jennings does not use any narration in the film, giving the film the feel of a dramatic feature.

In sum, Jennings tells the story of sub-station 14-Y in riveting detail and shows how their small victory on Trinidad Street served the greater war effort. After the success of Listen to Britain, Jennings and the Crown Film Unit certainly hit their stride with I Was a Fireman and the pedestrian heroism of the protagonists resonated with the people waging the self-styled “People’s War.”
Gregory Kosc University of Texas-Arlington gxk4924@exchange.uta.edu

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