In the opening scenes of the 1991 Ron Howard film “Backdraft,” two young brothers are horsing around in the Chicago firehouse where their father works when an emergency call comes in. As firefighters ready their engine to answer the call, the younger brother beams when his dad asks if he wants to ride along.
They reach the scene with sirens blazing, and the son watches his father pull a child from the top floor of the burning building. But then a tragic turn: A gas leak leads to an explosion, and the boy’s father dies in the blaze. From there, the film flashes forward decades when both brothers are Chicago firefighters.
The movie is loosely based on the lives of Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff and his older brother Raymond Hoff, third-generation Chicago firefighters whose father was killed fighting a fire in a South Side apartment building in 1962, according to media reports.
The film came to mind recently because Commissioner Hoff—presumably depicted as the younger brother in “Backdraft” who rode along with his firefighter-father – is now at the center of a controversy involving fire department “ride alongs.” Continue reading