Highland Park firefighter Scott Ziegler has one word to describe his sudden exposure to 21st-Century Internet fame:
Ziegler's eight-minute video montage of Highland Park fires, edited by him and shot with a lightweight camera on his helmet, has gone wild on YouTube.
Ziegler received the camera for Christmas last year, attached to his helmet and let it operate during nearly every run he went on during 2012. Sampling from more than 100 computer files, Ziegler assembled the video New Year's Eve and posted it on Youtube Tuesday, Jan. 1.
By mid-afternoon Thursday, the video, titled "2012: A year on my lid," had about 6,000 hits.
Then, Thursday at about 2:30 p.m., Deadline Detroit posted a link to the video and a short story about Ziegler, and all hell broke loose.
Numerous other sites -- including Huffpost, Gawker, Gizmodo, a firefighter site and even a site that specializes in rifles -- picked up the link, and by Monday morning, the video has been viewed 610,000 times. Brian Williams aired a snippet Monday on NBC Nightly News.
A number of local media outlets have highlighted his work, and Ziegler, of St. Clair Shores, has become a star among family, friends and fellow firefighters.
He's uncomfortable with the personal attention, but loves what the video has done for the busy HPFD and for firefighters in general.
"The recognition is awesome," Ziegler said Sunday night. "I want people to know what firefighters do. The more people who know that the better it is for us."
The video, embedded with this story, shows Ziegler and fellow firefighters battling fires in everything from automobiles to multi-story apartment buildings. It is set to the music of "Till I Collapse," by Eminem, featuring Nate Dogg, who raps in a fire-appropriate hook:
'til the roof comes off, 'til the lights go out
'til my legs give out, can't shut my mouth
'til the smoke clears out, am I high? Perhaps
I'mma rip this shit, 'til my bone collapse.
Ziegler, 27, has been a firefighter for nine years, three of them in Highland Park. The city, like neighboring Detroit, is plagued with abandoned structures and burns more than most cities in America.
One of the buildings seen on fire in Ziegler's video is the old, condemned Highland Park fire headquarters off of Woodward. It was an apparent arson.
"The fire went up the hose tower," Ziegler said. "We went in through an upstairs window and did what we could."
Highland Park is also financially troubled, and the HPFD has experienced numerous equipment problems over the years. The 27-person department uses only one engine and one ladder truck.
A Highland Park resident who won a $128 million Powerball lottery ticket in 2010 -- at a Highland Park adult bookstore -- purchased a pumper engine for the department, but it was hit by a semi recently. The firefighters are waiting to see if the insurance company determines the rig can be repaired.
While a new fire station is under construction, the firefighters work out of a warehouse whose interior temperatures are unbearable in winter and summer. Ziegler and others slept in tents for a time. Now there are free-standing bedrooms made of wood.
"The guys I work with are incredible and work under some of the toughest conditions," Ziegler told Deadline Detroit. "Six guys" -- on a shift -- "responding to multiple fires is unheard of."
A Detroit firefighter experimented with a helmet cam several years ago, but the department brass told him to turn it off. Helment cams are forbidden by other departments, though Detroit firefighters,with permission, wore cameras on their helmets for the filming of "BURN," the award-winning documentary about the DFD, and captured sensational scenes inside burning buildings.
Many of the viewers who have commented on YouTbue express gratitude, awe or both.
"Man, I can't wait till I graduate to be a Chicago firefighter. When I was watching I got pumped," said benjif122.
"This dude is a BAMF thanks for helping the community guys! We love the warriors of safety and fighters of fire," wrote Mr. Strike45.
"My fking god firefighters are bad asses my god although im a girl i wanna be one," opined spolo1978.
Said Ziegler: "We're busy, and Detroit is busy, but even firefighters in the suburbs are doing it. This is for all firefighters."