Created as a brutal outcry in response to complacency, Hospitals Don’t Burn Down was a short created in 1978. In its 24 minute length it packs a visceral punch that has stood the test of time. There is no story as such. This is a no holds barred strike to make you follow the best advice on surviving a fast spreading fire.
The disasters faced
A discarded cigarette, poor evacuations, smoke inhalation, crazy patients and an awful lot of opening doors when smoke is everywhere.
The whole premise and design of this short is based on the idea of scoffing at the thought that catastrophe could strike at any time. It then rips a hole in so many small decisions that characters make that change the paths of the various people we follow.
The main characters we follow are a nurse and an orderly. Its the night shift and things are relaxed and chilled. Staff are doing their job and keeping things light. That is until an idiotic patient trying to smoke in the hospital panics when he is about to be caught and throws his lit cigarette into a chute. The chute is a laundry chute that goes down to the basement and as nurses send more bed linen down – the fire takes hold in the basement.
From the second smoke is on the screen, the chaos begins. Immediately a nurse is set on fire as she opens the cute and her flailing sets other furnishings alight too. With the basement on fire and now the 8th floor ablaze too. The fire brigade arrive to help save the day. The problem is that an evacuation of all the staff and patients is tricky. The 8th floor is full of elderly patients that are slow to move and the choices over who to take first are grim but fast paced. The same issues take place down at ICU, just above the fire in the basement. However with time running out, the staff are too overwhelmed and trapped with choking toxic smoke claiming them quickly. Trying to find staff members in the chaos is a deadly mistake.
A cleaner, oblivious to everything takes a lift that opens in the basement setting him ablaze too. That is a problem because he has left plenty of cleaning chemicals in the stairs as he was just popping back downstairs to get something. This then causes the fire escape staircase to be compromised, which is made worse when a nurse wedges a fire door open and that cuts off the main escape plan. Most of the staff are now trapped and forced to the roof whilst our nurse and orderly are trapped with some of the children from the children’s ward. When one of the kids runs off, they are stuck with a split decision of being a hero and going after the young girl or continuing with their evacuation with what they have.
All of this in just 24 minutes. It is a crazy ride.
Why is it worth watching?
Hospitals Don’t Burn Down wastes no time. The fire is very real. The stunt workers are very much on fire. There is no story – instead you are laser focused in on actions and consequences. Watch as someone spots some smoke and opens a door. See someone run back in looking for a co-worker only to be overcome with smoke and collapse. See someone go into shock at watching their nurse burn alive in-front of them and hide in the toilets in horror missing the evacuation. Hardly any characters have names, you just see their actions and consequences. It is such a clever way of making someone think ‘oh I would do that’ and then realising how that choice is wrong and what could happen. Its clever because it doesn’t preach – it shows. So much is in the nuance of an action, its superbly put together and very relevant today. I’m thinking Grenfell Tower here. Everyone above the 7th floor is trapped in this movie short because the fire ladder can’t get higher. If you live in a high-rise – do you know how you’d react to a fire that will decimate your life in under half an hour? There is an exit monologue played over a shot of the character who started the fire realising what he has done. The voice says ‘The fire is 31 minutes old. Nine people will die.’ and we get quick flashes of those characters’ final moments. It is easily one of the most powerful moments I’ve seen in a disaster movie. When the genre takes itself completely seriously, it can do wonderful things and this is one of them.
The fire is large, real, close to the actors and stunt people and rages. For a film in 1978 – this has more effects and set burning than almost any TV based movie in the last few years. The stunts themselves are excellently done and quite scary too.
As stated there isn’t really any characters but the lady who is sent into shock when she sees a nurse burn alive infront of her makes a masterclass of screaming, crying and being utterly overwhelmed. She can also take a slap to the face like a champ.
‘Interesting. I’ve not seen a good fire in ages!’an onlooker from outside as the fire rages through the hospital.
Three memorable moments
- The initial fireball and nurse death for being so brutally quick that it catches you off guard.
- The teachable lesson of not being a hero in real life and getting the hell out of there.
- A burning ‘well wishes’ card and seeing fire take over the ‘ICU’ sign for visual cues.
The obligatory weird moment
Hospitals Don’t Burn Down doesn’t have one of those but the Aussie humour does poke through. When on the roof, two men chat together and one exclaims the title of the short. The quote is also an Aussie humour poke too but you know that its bang on the nose with how people would act.
The drinking game
One of the interesting things about this short is that several shots are replicas of The Tower Inferno. Teddy’s on fire. A man flies burning out the window. The cleaner in the lift is on fire. Ironic signs on fire. Take a shot for each one if you’ve seen both.
Nothing… and I mean nothing quite works a 24 minute segment of disaster TV quite like Hospitals Don’t Burn Down. It is a fascinating watch and still as powerful today as I’m sure it was when it first aired in 1978. All the same problems still exist and human complacency is a constant shadow. Stunning.
You can watch the movie short below:
Rating: 5 / 5 – My Personal Favourites (Highly Recommended)
If you liked Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! then you may also like…
- The Tower Inferno – Still the king of all fire based movies all these years later.
- The Tower – Korean version of the above classic is also stunning.
- City on Fire – A terribly campy town fire centred around a hospital evacuation.