By Harold C. Ford
“Private industry really stepped up.”
–Erin Brennan, emergency room physician
“On the Line” is a refreshing antidote to a steady stream of stories about a chief executive who mishandled a pandemic and lied to the nation about its worst health crisis in a hundred years.
A short film, lasting less than nine minutes, its lens is squarely focused on frontliners who have gone above and beyond the call of duty during the coronavirus crisis. Included are assemblers, management, and engineers at Ford Motor Company (FMC) and members of their families. Viewers will also meet members of the medical community, ever grateful for the extraordinary efforts of Ford employees.
“On the Line: When America Shut Down, They Stepped Up” is directed by Peter Berg and is available on YouTube. Berg’s major film credits include “Friday Night Lights”, “Lone Survivor,” and “Patriots Day.”
The film enlisted the talents of Mike Ramsdell, a filmmaker with Flint roots. According to his website, Under the Hood Productions, his film credits include “UWKELI”, “Set Apart”, “The Anatomy of Hate”, “Machine Gun Duerr”, and “When Elephants Fight.” Ramsdell is the son of local educators and community activists Richard and Betty Ramsdell.
“Walking through the emergency department (at the start of the pandemic) was like walking through a war zone,” recollected Erin Brennan, an emergency medicine physician at Detroit Medical Center’s (DMC) Sinai-Grace Hospital. DMC is a “for-profit alliance of hospitals that encompasses over 2,000 licensed beds, 3,000 affiliated physicians, and over 12,000 employees.”
Donning multiple components of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to Brennan, “was like putting on battle gear.” The problem was, she recalled, “we were running out fast.”
Call of duty:
Project Apollo was FMC’s response to an “incredible need for personal protection equipment,” according to Jim Baumbick, FMC vice president of enterprise product line management.
The project’s name was derived from the movie Apollo 13, said Adrian Price, FMC director of global core engineering, especially scenes in which astronauts gathered odd pieces of hardware in the space capsule searching for a way to save the mission and themselves.
Auto plants were down, but we had lots of equipment, recalled Baumbick. “We gotta use what we got.”
“People from the UAW (United Auto Workers) raised their hands and volunteered,” recalled Marcy Fisher, FMC director of exterior and interior engineering. “Literally, the faster we go the more lives that can be saved.”
“There is no greater pressure,” recalled Brennan, “because you’re building a piece of equipment that’s going to save somebody’s life.”
Laborers like Alvin Strong with 33 years at FMC stepped forward. “I’m not usually working with respirators,” he said, “but then it’s for a good cause. That’s one of the reasons I volunteered for it.”
“I didn’t even blink an eye,” recalled Curtis Frizell. “I gottta go. I gotta make ventilators.”
“In times like this, everybody comes together and helps,” said Price.
In a matter of weeks, FMC turned out 16 million face shields, 10 million facemasks, 50,000 ventilators, and 15,000 power packs.
“It was a feeling close to Christmas,” remembered Brennan, when boxes of badly needed PPE manufactured by Ford arrived at DMC.
Film debut and credits:
According to the Detroit Free Press, “On the Line” debuted Aug. 28 at Aspen Ideas Now, an event hosted by the Aspen Institute, “a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just and equitable society,” according to its website.
“On the Line” is a product of Film 45, “an EMMY award-winning production company creating non-scripted entertainment…for film, television, and digital platforms,” according to its website. With Berg at the helm, Film 45 endeavors to tell “stories with authenticity, soulfulness, and grit.”
The film had tallied more than 60,000 YouTube views at the time of this review. It deserves many more.
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.