Capt. Wayde Kline’s eyes fill with tears and he chokes up as he talks about the challenges of being a Phoenix firefighter and the colleagues he has lost due to the stresses of the job.
“We are not like the average citizen, who maybe sees one bad thing in their lifetime. We see bad things every day, day after day, after day, after day. We see the worst of the worst all the time,” he says, his blue eyes clouded with a painful mist and looking directly at the camera.
“We are fed a constant diet of bad. People don’t call us when they’re having a good day.”
Kline also talks about being burned in a fire, the painful medical treatment he received and its effect on his family.
These are pivotal moments in “Fire Strong,” a documentary about Phoenix Fire Department’s Station 7, which from June 2016 to June 2017 received more than 400 calls, making it the busiest station in Phoenix. The film shows how firefighters and their families cope with the difficulties of one of the most difficult professions.
Behind the camera, capturing the emotion of the 22-year Phoenix Fire Department veteran, was Alicia Gonzales, who graduated summa cum laude last spring with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and honors from Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. This documentary film was her honors thesis project. It now is a training tool for the Phoenix Fire Department and the city’s Public Safety Crisis Solutions group.
“This documentary was made to inform viewers about the wear and tear of the firefighting career — emotionally, mentally and physically — on the individual firefighter and his or her family, and help raise awareness about the duty these individuals have committed to their city,” Gonzales said.
“Fire Strong” is Gonzales’s second documentary. She produced “The Blake Project” in 2016 while she was a student in a documentary film class taught by Professor John Craft at the Cronkite School. She and two other Cronkite students teamed up to tell the story of Ron Blake, a young man who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after being sexually assaulted. To cope with PTSD and isolation, Blake started traveling around Phoenix for four hours a day, asking people to write words of support on large poster boards. Blake’s aim was to reconnect with people, share his story and get on the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to talk about his experience and how to help people suffering from PTSD.
“The Blake Project” received an Emmy Award nomination at the Rocky Mountain Southwest Emmy Awards in 2016. The film did not win, but Gonzales said she was grateful for the experience of making it and the confidence that came along with it. Having completed "The Blake Project", she knew she had the wherewithal to produce another documentary and embarked on making "Fire Strong."
“We wanted to tell a powerful story and raise awareness about something important. It took a lot of trust on both sides to move forward with the story. We spent months following him (Blake) around, conducted multiple interviews with PTSD experts and his friends, and put together something he still uses to educate and spread awareness about PTSD,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales now is a graduate student, working on a master’s degree in mass communication at the Cronkite School. She plans to graduate with her second ASU degree in 2019. As part of her coursework, she will produce short documentaries in a class called Television Magazine. She also is a teaching assistant for a course titled Sex, Love and Romance in the Mass Media.
In addition to working on her graduate degree, she runs her own production company called Alicia Marie Productions, taking on film production, photography and design projects for clients including insurance and technology companies. She also works for Allstate Insurance Company’s Southwest Corporate Relations department, where she handles internal and external communications with business partners, the media and consumers.
"I’m so thankful to have been a part of Barrett at ASU. It (Barrett) really gave me a place to belong, and introduced me to so many other places at ASU where I belonged, including a team of Community Assistants (at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus), my co-workers in the Barrett office, BLAST’D honors community service group, Cronkite News, and the list goes on."
Film by Alicia Gonzales