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‘9-1-1' TV series is off base on first responders

New TV series on first responders falls flat with the fire service, bows to stereotypes and inaccuracies


I just watched the first episode of the new FOX TV series “9-1-1.” And honestly, I’m not sure what to say.

I had looked forward to this series. It seemed promising, with good actors and some interesting plot twists indicated in the previews. The cast is diverse and credible.

But then came the first episode. Was it all bad? No. There were some affecting and entertaining moments. But some aspects of the script were so far off base, even for primetime network TV, that I could hardly finish watching it.

One of the dominant plotlines of the first episode portrayed a rookie firefighter with a bad habit of taking the ladder truck for joyrides by himself, with the purpose of having sex with strangers while on duty.

In the first encounter shown, he is running lights and sirens through the streets of Los Angeles to hook up on a public street with a woman he met online. In response to this event (apparently not the first transgression), the captain reluctantly tells the firefighter he must write him up.

The firefighter is angry and feels mistreated. Before the hour-long show is over, the firefighter has done it again, this time setting up the aerial ladder to facilitate a sexual encounter on a roof.

At this point, the captain tells the rookie he is fired. Never mind that I don’t know of any fire department, much less the LAFD, where a company officer has the power to hire and fire someone.

Of course, by the end of the show, the young firefighter has saved the day, alone and driving the engine (at the direction of another firefighter), after he has been terminated. He does this by knocking down an escaping home invader with a hose stream … but wait, the engine isn’t even running. As a result of this action, the captain rehires him. And all is well until the next emergency.

‘9-1-1' paints firefighters as unprofessional and unsafe

I was embarrassed watching this show – embarrassed for the LAFD, a department I have personally worked with and have great respect for – and embarrassed for the fire service in general.

Look, no one expects these kinds of TV series to be documentaries. But why do TV shows and films about the fire service have to be so blatantly ridiculous, promoting every stereotype and reinforcing the worst expectations among the general public?

This show portrays firefighters as brave and strong, but also as impulsive, childish, unprofessional and unsafe.

Some people might say that such complaints are beside the point. It’s just entertainment. Who would watch a show like “9-1-1” and draw conclusions about what firefighters are like anyway?

Well, younger generations, for one. Young people don’t necessarily believe everything they see on TV, but there is no doubt that it influences them.

And even though most people would not buy into every character in such a show literally, most people also have never met a firefighter in person, and have very little knowledge of what life as a firefighter is really like.

The fire service deserves better than ‘9-1-1'

The vast majority of firefighters I have known over the past 40 years do not fit into the shallow stereotypes portrayed in this show.

Instead, they are hard-working, complex and flawed individuals who never quit and who have an above-average sense of humor. They’re not always the best roommates, but they are usually the ones you want beside you when things get really bad.

And they have stories to tell. Compelling stories, ones that are tragic and hilarious, stories that reflect what the job is actually like, not this ridiculous Hollywood drama that commercial media keeps feeding us.

There have been a few movies and TV series dealing with law enforcement that steer clear of stereotypes and present police officers accurately as the individuals they are. But when has this ever happened for firefighters? “Backdraft”? “Chicago Fire”? Hardly.

I had hoped this series would be different, but I am disappointed again. The fire service deserves better.

Did you watch the debut of “9-1-1”? What did you think? Comment below.

Take your department in the direction you want. Get expert advice on how to effectively lead your fire department. 20-year veteran Linda Willing writes “Leading the Team,” a FireRescue1 column about fire department leadership.